by | Mar 22, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You want to scream. But screaming never stops a drunk.

You want to cry. But crying never stops a drunk.

You want to reason, to show statistics – but if statistics could keep a suspected drunk from getting behind a wheel, we might not be burying four teenagers.

Instead, there are four funerals and emotional vigils and grieving parents and weeping students all because one woman had to get behind a wheel, according to police, after a drinking binge with a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit.

You want to say, “Didn’t she know the consequences? Didn’t she realize what she was doing? At what point – with what laws – will these people get the message?”

And I’m afraid the answer is: never.

Because you cannot scare a drunk, you cannot threaten a drunk, a drunk will find a way to do what he or she wants and to get what he or she needs, and while that same person sober might never kill someone’s child, being drunk means you are not the same person, and therefore are capable of almost anything.

A drunk doesn’t think about jail time.

A drunk doesn’t think about funerals.

So when the lawyer for Frances Dingle – who this past week, at a high rate of speed, plowed her van into another car and killed four young people – tells the public she is not a monster, I believe him.

Because she probably isn’t – when she’s sober.

And that is the fatal difference. Tough courses of action?

The question is what do we do? Do we become a country like Japan, where you can go straight to jail if caught impaired behind the wheel, and where as little as one beer can get you busted?

Well, yes, that would help. But you still need police to enforce these laws. And you can’t have a cop at every bar, frat house and private party.

How about going after the providers of the booze? Make them as culpable as the inebriated drivers themselves?

Well, sure, but you’ll get arguments from people who provide the booze, saying, “I didn’t know he was driving” or, “He said he had a cab coming.” Does every patron need a private bartender?

That leads us to the car itself. How about a device that everyone must pass in order to start a car – something you breathe into, etc.? Good idea. But nondrinkers will complain about the inconvenience. Carmakers will complain about the cost. Civil rights zealots will call it an invasion. And drunks will figure a way to get around it. Less drinking in our lives?

That brings us back to the alcohol industry itself. And don’t expect any help there. In a nation where marijuana is illegal and the tobacco industry has forked over billons, the booze business remains totally untouched. You don’t see it shelling out a fortune for all the lives it has ruined. You don’t even see beer commercials banned from television, the way cigarette ads are, even though you can argue alcohol does more harm than smoking.

No, the liquor lobby is too strong and the bar and restaurant business too vast for lawmakers to attack the real problem – drinking in our daily life. We drink to hide from problems. We drink because we’re depressed. We drink because we think it’s cool. We drink because we are taught to drink.

And then, every few months, we have a week like this past week, and more headshaking than a city should endure, and four young lives are snuffed before they bloom, and everyone turns to the mug shot of the suspect, a dazed and worn-looking 47-year-old woman with a reported history of substance abuse, who should have been stopped but wasn’t, who shouldn’t have driven but did, and we ask, “How could you do this?”

But the person who did it is gone, until the next flood of alcohol, and so you are talking to a ghost.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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