Drunk driving isn’t a topic of conversation we expect to hear at the doctor’s office. In fact, it’s the kind of topic that doesn’t come up very often. It’s uncomfortable. It’s ugly. And it’s so often tragic. If we don’t have to talk about it, we don’t. And maybe that’s the problem.
A Local Drunk Driving Accident
It was 7:30 in the morning on a Wednesday in February.
As I sat in the waiting room at my doctor’s office – feeling like death because, well, if you’ve had the flu this season, you understand – in walked a woman. One of her arms was in a full cast. She checked in at the front desk, grabbed a seat, and one of the people in the waiting room asked her what happened to her arm.
“A drunk driver ran a light on Superbowl Sunday,” she said.
Upon impact, her vehicle spun before flipping – twice – and landing in front of oncoming traffic. She was the passenger, and she’d had plates and some other potluck supplies in her lap. It was supposed to be a fun Superbowl Sunday with friends and family. Instead, the vehicle she was in was totaled, and her then broken arm became the recipient of multiple pins and two rods.
“But it could have been worse,” she said. “I could be dead. I thought I was. I saw the car run the light. I saw the impact coming. Nothing could have stopped it, except that driver choosing not to drive drunk.”
There it was. The moment in the conversation where everyone in the waiting room nervously twisted in their seats, grabbed a magazine, and awkwardly attempted to change the subject. The discomfort was palpable.
Why are we so uncomfortable when it comes to discussing drunk driving? Perhaps because so many of us don’t know what or if there is a solution.
DWI Fatalities in Mecklenburg County Rise
Luckily, the woman in the waiting room didn’t die. Neither did her husband, who was driving, and neither did the drunk driver. Bumps, bruises, broken bones, and totaled vehicles were the extent of the damage.
Other drivers in Mecklenburg County haven’t been so lucky.
According to WBTV, state troopers are seeing more drunk driving deaths on North Carolina’s highways. They’re seeing more fatalities in crashes where alcohol is a factor.
The Highway Patrol counts 23 deaths where alcohol was involved in 2018. To put this number into perspective, in 2015, 13 deaths were the result of alcohol-related wrecks for the year. 23 fatalities where alcohol was a factor have been logged in 2018, and it’s only February.
Let that sink in.
23 deaths where alcohol was a factor in 2018 before the end of February.
Those are the fatalities – that statistic does not include the people who have been injured in drunk driving accidents.
What Do Alcohol-Caused Crashes Look Like?
WBTV reports that Highway Patrol is investigating two cases of wrong way drivers on 485 inner loop near West Boulevard from January – two crashes where everyone involved died. Toxicology reports remain outstanding.
As recently as Sunday, February 11, troopers are trying to get to the bottom of a crash where an intoxicated driver hit a car on I-77 south near LaSalle Street. An accident resulting in two counts of felony death by vehicle and DWI.
What’s Being Done?
It’s the ultimate question. What is law enforcement doing to curb the substantial increase they see in drunk driving incidents? Consider this quote from WBTV’s report:
Highway Patrol statistics…show there were fewer DWI arrests in Mecklenburg County [in 2017]. Troopers say in 2016, there were 501 arrests[,] but in 2017[,] that number dropped to 432. Troopers say the decrease in DWI arrests aren’t because there are less drunk drivers…it might be more about an increase in calls for service.”
The cold, hard fact is that when service calls increase, enforcement takes a hit. Law enforcement is steadily finding itself overwhelmed, and a lapse in DWI charges has become a symptom of the issue.
Is It Law Enforcement’s Fault?
Given the current climate, it may be unreasonable to start pointing fingers solely at law enforcement. After all, the men and women who respond to multiple accident calls at all hours of every single day do the best they can with the resources at their disposal. They cannot be in two places at once, and when you’re the person putting in the call for help, you expect a fast response time. Rarely do you stop to think about where the officers on the scene just came from.
Think back to the woman at the beginning of this article. As she sat in the waiting room, waiting to be seen by her primary care physician for the first time after having been rushed to the emergency room where her arm was treated, she said something profound.
“Nothing could have stopped it, except that driver choosing not to drive drunk.”
The question we as a community should be asking ourselves isn’t necessarily if law enforcement is doing enough. While a lapse in ensuring intoxicated drivers are charged and face the full consequences of their actions is essential to acknowledge and actively find solutions to, the topic goes a step further. It goes to that ugly, awkward place that causes us to change the subject – the fact that driving while under the influence of alcohol is a choice. It’s a decision-making process, a chosen action that we as a community and we as individuals must address.
Community Resources to End Drunk Driving
What happens when a driver is charged with a DWI or DUI?
Did you know first-time offenders with a DWI/DUI charge are mandated by the courts to participate in DWI classes or substance use treatment?
DWI Classes or treatment isn’t just a court-mandated penalty for drunk driving. It’s a community resource that gives those sent to it the opportunity to connect with the resources they need to make better decisions. It puts them in contact with qualified substance abuse counselors who know alcohol. They understand how it affects the brain and body, and they are intimately familiar with the many scenarios that lead to DWI events.
Law enforcement arrives on the scene after a bad decision has been made. The person who drives while under the influence often isn’t a bad person or even a raging alcoholic. All too often, they’re a person struggling with something, a person who made a bad choice.
This is why being charged with a DWI is an important part of the process when a drunk driving incident occurs. It is sometimes the only intervention that connects a struggling person with the help they need.
As a community, it falls to us to raise awareness.
It is within our ability to look out for each other and take decisive action. We have the power to create change. And now that we know there’s a challenge – an inundation of drunk driving incidents law enforcement are struggling to respond to – we can work harder to raise awareness and find solutions.
Local Help for Those Struggling With Alcohol
Did you know anyone who feels they are struggling with alcohol can get help?
A substance abuse professional can be contacted before a legal charge ever happens. No matter who you are, where you come from, or what your resources are, you can get help. You can find the support you need. You can choose not to drink and drive, and that choice stops bumps, bruises, broken bones, and deaths.
Don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t let the discomfort change the topic.
Learn more. Find out what action you can take. Contact us today to connect with a substance abuse professional.