Letter: Let’s not be complicit in state’s DUI culture
We’re near the top among states in drunken driving deaths per capita. Alcohol was involved in more than half of our fatal crashes this year.
There were more than 6,000 driving under the influence arrests last year, but the number of drunk drivers is higher. Law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time.
On Oct. 29, 2011, Charles Boehm, 21; Trevor Erie, 21; and Eastman Nadeau, 22; died in a Mandan crash. Their driver was drunk. At Lake Metigoshe on July 9 this year, Alaries Ruiz, 5, and Cyris Ruiz, 9, died when their tent was driven over by an alleged drunk.
Three days earlier, a drunk going the wrong way on Interstate 94 near Jamestown killed Aaron Deutscher, 34; wife, Allison, 36; daughter Brielle, 18 months, and their unborn child. Notice the young ages. The human costs and losses are immeasurable.
In the Deutschers’ case, with Aaron being my nephew, the old phrase “words cannot describe” the aftermath is true. They were headed to a family reunion, with all the happiness that could entail, but instead that became days of shock and sorrow. As one relative said, “This truly makes your heart break.”
Fargo legislators are offering proposals with stiffer penalties.
Penalties are important, but the greater “value” is the opportunity to drive. Another “wall” needs to be put up between drunk drivers and their vehicles.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving supports using ignition interlocks, now used in 17 states. A convicted driver must first blow into the device before the vehicle starts. Interlocks are more effective than license suspension alone because 50 percent to 75 percent of offenders continue driving without being licensed. Interlocks have been effective in reducing repeat offenses by 67 percent.
Federal funding to the North Dakota Department of Transportation has assisted with alcohol issues. North Dakota can fund its own grant program to local entities to enhance enforcement.
Prosecutors have the discretion of determining a DUI case’s direction. Becky Byzewski, Community Action’s prevention/safe communities coordinator in Dickinson, has told me she believes a part of the problem is too many DUIs end up in reduced sentences. This doesn’t help those who were charged or everyone else on the road.
North Dakota should be ashamed of its DUI culture. If the Legislature doesn’t support meaningful change, then the Legislature is complicit in the culture. So are we all, if we don’t speak up.
Richard Volesky, Belfield