The Price One Pays For Drinking And Driving In Texas
There was a report on television the other evening about a woman who had been found guilty of causing an auto accident in which a young child was killed. A number of charges were involved, among them texas drunk driving. She was sent to jail for five years. And my reaction, on hearing the news, was: "Hey, isn't that pretty stiff for drunk driving?"
The answer, of course, is: No. But the question that I so instinctively asked is all too characteristic of our attitude toward drunk driving, and it helps explain why we have been so incredibly complacent about punishing one of the country's most widespread and destructive crimes.
Now, for some reason, opinion seems to be shifting; organizations have been established to lobby for stronger texas drunk driving laws, and the victims of drunk driving -- or, as is often the case, the victims' survivors -- seem more willing to express their outrage in public. Yet the odds are still very high against effective reform.
From time to time, to be sure, the elected representatives make dutiful bows in the direction of clamping down on drunk driving -- usually after a child has been killed, or an elderly pedestrian, or a carload of teen-agers. But if there is a state in the nation that has a genuinely effective drunk-driving law, I am unaware of it.
It's easy enough to see why the laws are so lax.
At the most trivial level, it's because a great many of the people who pass the laws on drunk driving happen to be drinkers themselves; just ask the lobbyists who underwrite their nocturnal festivities. Similarly, the people who enforce those laws -- the police and the prosecutors and the judges -- do not take drunk driving very seriously, even though it is understood to cause the larger part of the 50,000 highway deaths we manage to rack up each year.
Perhaps that's because the enforcers of the law, like the legislators, enjoy a nip from time to time. But more likely it has to do with basic American attitudes toward drinking and driving. One of the most basic of these may be that drunk driving is not a "crime." No "criminal intent" is involved. Most of the people who slide boozily behind their steering wheels are not "criminal types"; they're nice middle-class folks, just like you and me.