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By Officer David  S. MacArtney


One Good Friday evening, a young family was on its way to church for the six o’clock service. Suddenly a car traveling the opposite direction drove across a wide grassy median and hit the family’s car head on. The accident happened so fast, there was nothing the father of the family, who was driving, could do to avoid collision. The outcome was devastating. The father and the two children were seriously injured, and the mother died at the scene. The driver of the other car was not injured and was found to be legally intoxicated. He was charged with reckless homicide.

That incident caused many lives to change because one man did not have the sense to call a cab or a friend for a ride home. Instead, more numbers were added to an already enormous statistic on drunk driving. Drunk driving is a societal problem. The following information will describe some of the things that are being done by the government, law enforcement agencies, and private organizations to prevent drunk driving, and tips on spotting possible drunks and what to do if a driver is suspected to be drunk.

In 1980, a young girl named Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver as she was walking on a sidewalk. The driver of the car had been arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) a few days prior. As a result of this tragic death the girl’s mom tried to start government action for new DUI laws. Over time she developed an organization called Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Soon after, other organizations formed such as Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), and Remove Intoxicated Motorists (RID), to name a few. With the support of victims of drunk drivers, these organizations launch public education and awareness activities and workshops. The groups also rate each of the states in America on DUI prevention and present findings based on research and other testimony to legislators.

Research has shown that almost half of all drunk drivers drink at liquor serving establishments. Because of this, liquor servers must take some responsibility for the customer’s excessive drinking. As heightened DUI awareness and civil suites against these establishments increased, alcohol server training became available. The server is trained how to check the identification of patrons to ensure proper age and to check the validity of the ID. The server is also taught to identify and refrain from serving people who appear intoxicated.

Organizations such as state and local government, safety advocacy groups, the police, and people in the alcoholic beverage industry, have worked to promote responsible serving and consumption of alcohol. The work of these organizations has been seen in many areas including outlawing "Happy Hour" type promotions which encourage heavy drinking at reduced prices. Police agencies around the country have also implemented liquor compliance checks. These checks involve officers entering the liquor serving establishments to conduct inspections and investigations to ensure adherence to laws governing the sale of liquor.

State governments are also working to deter the public from drunk driving through the implementation of general and specific deterrent laws. General deterrent laws are in place to discourage the public from driving drunk, such as mandatory driver’s license suspension upon a DUI arrest. This law allows the arresting officer to immediately confiscate the person’s driver’s license. Another general deterrent law implemented by most of the states in America was lowering the legal blood-alcohol-content limit from .10% to 08%. The most recent general deterrent law put in place is the zero tolerance law. This law prohibits drivers under the age of twenty-one to have any alcohol in his or her body while driving a car.

Specific deterrent laws are aimed at the drivers who have already been arrested for DUI. These laws include driver’s license revocation, treatment or rehabilitation, jail, probation, or a combination of these actions. Another specific deterrent is the use of ignition interlock devices which is growing in popularity among the courts.

An ignition interlock device is a system that connects a breath analysis device to a car’s ignition. To start the engine of a car with this device, the driver must blow into the analyzer which measures the driver’s blood-alcohol-content. If the test shows that the driver’s level is over the calibrated setting, the engine of the car will not start.

The most recent specific deterrent law implemented in some states is automobile seizure under certain conditions. Once a person is arrested for DUI, his or her driver’s license will be suspended. Under the new law, if that person is arrested for DUI while he or she is driving under a license suspension for DUI, the police may seize the car. If being arrested for DUI doesn’t deter drunk driving, maybe not having a car will.

Private companies have worked to create instruments to assist police officers with the detection of drunk driving. One of these devices is the portable breath tester. At the scene of a traffic stop, before a DUI arrest is made, the suspected drunk driver submits a breath sample into the device which then displays the driver’s level of intoxication. This hand held unit has recently been made available for sale to the public for $200-$300. People can now discover their blood-alcohol-level before they attempt to drive home.

Although somewhat controversial, roadside safety checks continue to be a very successful deterrent for DUI. These checks, conducted by the police, look for equipment and safety belt violations in addition to possible drunks. The safety check concept has been challenged in US Supreme Court arguing that the stop is an infringement on motorists freedom of movement. The courts allowed the checks and prepared guidelines for officers to follow when conducting these checks.

While the government and police are working to prevent and detect drunk driving, citizens need to get involved by identifying and reporting suspected intoxicated motorists. The MADD organization and the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration have compiled information on things that may indicate a driver of a vehicle may be intoxicated.

They are:

- driving without headlights

- sudden, hard braking

- hitting or almost hitting another car or object

- following too closely

- making wide turns

If a motorist suspects a car is being driven by a drunk driver, the motorist should:

- not pass the car

- keep a safe distance

- notify the police as soon as possible

With the increased use of cellular phones, more people are being arrested for DUI as a result of a tip from another motorist. Some organizations around the country pay tipsters when the information leads to a DUI arrest. In Illinois, the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) will pay up to $100 for information that results in a DUI arrest. What’s more, the money that supports this organization comes from the fines that drunk drivers pay in court.

Because of the high number of people killed and injured by drunk drivers this problem affects all of society. Even though laws are in place to deter and punish these drivers, more action is needed. Citizens must be responsible for their own actions by not driving while intoxicated. Motorists can do their part by reporting suspected drunk drivers to the police. These steps will help to curb the staggering number of deaths and injuries which are the result of drunk drivers.


David MacArtney is a police officer for a suburban Chicago police department. A 12 year veteran with many DUI arrests to his credit, Officer MacArtney heads his department's public awareness programs to deter drunk driving and keeping the streets safe for the motoring public.


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