Fred Carey was a teacher at Cincinnati Country Day School. He was strict with his rules, but was kind and created an environment where the ideas of his students could blossom into words on paper. Mr. Carey was never my teacher, but his mentorship through my years at Country Day helped shape the person I am today. On a chilly evening in February of 2014, only four months after his wedding, Fred Carey went out for a bike ride through his hometown of Milford, Ohio. He never returned home.
Only miles from his home, Fred Carey was run down in a hit-and-run by a drunk driver. It was the driver’s seventh DUI. Officials found open cans of beer in his van.
Just seven months later, a vibrant young woman I used to go to school with was rear ended by a drunk driver while stopped at a red light. The crash broke her neck in three places, paralyzing her from the waist down. The crash that paralyzed Haylie was the drunk driver’s sixth DUI (1).
Pictured: Haylie’s car after she was hit by a drunk driver while stopped at a red light.
Combined, the drunk drivers that stole the lives of people I know are serving only 16 years in prison. Both were repeat offenders, which is not surprising considering the average drunk driver has been under the influence while driving 80 times before their first arrest (2). Even more disturbing, 50-75% of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive (sober and drunk) on a suspended license (2). The drunk driving problem in the United States is so severe that every 52 minutes someone dies from an alcohol-related vehicle accident—totaling 10,076 deaths in 2013 (2).
However horrifying the statistics, the United States may not be the worst offender. “In most high-income countries about 20% of fatally injured drivers have excess alcohol in their blood, i.e. blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in excess of the legal limit. In contrast, studies in low- and middle-income countries have shown that between 33% and 69% of fatally injured drivers and between 8% and 29% of nonfatally injured drivers had consumed alcohol before their crash” (3).
Figure 1. Drunk-driving as a factor in fatal crashes (3).
Unfortunately, the data collection systems in many countries are poor or non-existent, making international data difficult to attain (4). The definition of drunk driving is also different among nations, further complicating a way to pool data from all countries and compare (3). Despite this, it is apparent that drunk driving is a global issue and requires action from lawmakers and infrastructure leaders alike.
A wide scale initiative to fight drunk driving in the US began in 1980, when Candace Lightner’s 13-year-old daughter Cari was hit and killed by a drunk driver (5). Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has since flourished into a massive organization that advocates, educates, and speaks out for the victims of drunk driving. “In the United States, the number of drunk driving deaths has been cut in half since MADD was founded in 1980” (2). MADD was also a heavy influence in the 1984 legislation that mandated a minimum legal drinking age of 21 in the United States (6).
Other countries, including France and Australia, have adopted legal BAC limits and increased traffic stops in order to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road (3). Driving under the influence, however, is still a big problem in many countries. In their Drinking and Driving Road Safety Manual published in 2007, the WHO outlines actions that governments can take that are proven to reduce the amount of drunk driving, pictured below.
Figure 2. What works to reduce drunk driving? (WHO)
The next step is to ask: What can we do, as 20-something undergraduate students, to reduce the number of drunk driving and drunk driving-related deaths? The answer is simple: be mindful. Visit the MADD website and look at their toolkits, talk to your friends and classmates, volunteer to be the designated driver this weekend. If we all work together to stay mindful and keep our loved ones and ourselves safe, we can change the statistics.
- Doran, Kelly. Benefit planned for Batavia resident. The Clermont Sun. February 19, 2015. http://clermontsun.com/2015/02/19/benefit-planned-for-batavia-resident/. Accessed February 24, 2016.
- MADD. http://www.madd.org/statistics/. Accessed February 24, 2016.
- Drinking and Driving: a road safety manual for decision-makers and practitioners. Geneva: Global Road Safety Partnership; 2007. Accessed at: http://www.who.int/roadsafety/projects/manuals/alcohol/drinking_driving.pdf
- Khazan, Olga. A surprising map of countries that have the most traffic deaths. The Washington Post. January 18, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/01/18/a-surprising-map-of-countries-that-have-the-most-traffic-deaths/. Accessed February 25, 2016.
- 35 Years: Saving Lives, Serving People. MADD. http://www.madd.org/about-us/history/?referrer=http://www.madd.org/underage-drinking/why21/. Updated 2015. Accessed February 25, 2016.
- Why 21. MADD. http://www.madd.org/underage-drinking/why21/ Updated 2015. Accessed February 24, 2016.