Friday Night Hangover


When Betty and I took our morning lap around Schiller Park yesterday morning, circling the park, clockwise, on the perimeter sidewalk, we encountered the following, in order: (1) a disgusting pool of vomit that all joggers and walkers were steering clear of but that was of intense interest to Betty and other dogs; (2) an area of a flowerbed where the plants were crushed and uprooted; and (3) a car, which had lost part of a bumper and a hubcap, had white paint scrapes on the left front side, and was parked over the curb with a flat right front tire.

You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that some irresponsible person got drunk Friday night, drove when they shouldn’t have, ran into something, “parked” their car at Schiller, toppled into the flowerbed, and then expelled the stomach poisons. I’m just surprised Betty and I didn’t see and smell a reeking figure passed out on the playground or under a tree.

What’s interesting is that, as of this morning when the photo above was taken, the car is still there. Perhaps the offender had a blackout and can’t remember where he/she left the car.  Or, perhaps the car was stolen by the offender, and the true owner doesn’t know where the car is.

So, I’m offering this post as a public service. If this is your car, it’s on the north side of Schiller Park. And if this post helps you retrieve it, how about making a decent contribution to the German Village Garten Club to compensate for the pretty flowerbed that got ruined as part of the entire escapade?

On DUI Standards, How Low Should You Go?

Last month, the Utah legislature passed, and Utah’s governor signed, a measure reducing Utah’s standard for driving under the influence of alcohol.  Under the new Utah standard, which takes effect in December 2018, Utah’s threshold for drunk driving will be a blood alcohol level of .05 percent.  In Ohio, and most states, you can be charged with drunk driving if your minimum blood alcohol limit is .08 percent.

two-cups-of-beer-in-barIn Utah, the debate about lowering the level was a familiar one — on one side, people who have been personally affected by a drunk driver, as well as health and transportation advocates who think that lower standards will produce safer roadways and fewer accidents, and on the other, people in the tourism and hospitality industries who think that tougher standards will hurt their businesses.  The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that all states lower their limits to .05 percent, contending that the stricter rules will deter people from drunk driving.  The American Beverage Institute, on the other hand, argued that a 120-pound woman could be at the .05 level after only one drink, and that a person driving with a .05 blood alcohol level is less impaired that a person driving while talking hands-free on a cell phone.

Part of the area of disagreement is that blood alcohol levels are a variable measure of illegal intoxication — because the same quantities of alcohol consumed will affect different people differently.  Men typically can drink more than women without hitting the limit, and heavier people can drink more than lighter people.  And, some people also question whether lower standards really will deter dangerous drunk driving, rather than simply ensnaring people who had two beers with friends after work — when the real road hazards are the people who are grossly intoxicated and are far over both the .05 percent limit and the standard .08 limit.  Often, the most serious accidents seem to involve serial violators who have been arrested multiple times for DUI violations but never seem to be deterred from drinking and driving, no matter what the standard is.

Drunk driving is one of those areas where there has been a sea change in public perception in my lifetime.  For years, the legal limit in most states was .15 percent, and drunk drivers were often tolerated by police — who might just escort the impaired driver home — and even were the subject of TV sitcom humor.  The recognition that drunk driving is dangerous and can be fatal, is unfair to other drivers, and needs to be stopped was a positive development.  And while some chronic cases keep drinking and driving, I think most people are very sensitive to the need to avoid even putting themselves, and other drivers, at risk, and either go with designated drivers or with Ubering it after a night on the town.

Is .05 percent the right standard?  I don’t know, but I think anything that gets people talking about drunk driving, and thinking about whether they should have one more drink and then drive, is a good thing.

10 DUIs, Then Life

In Texas, a man who pleaded guilty to his 10th DUI offense was sentenced to life in prison.  Is that sentence excessive?  After all, the driver wasn’t acting with the intent to harm anyone.

I don’t think such sentences are excessive.  There’s no doubt that driving while drunk is dangerous to the public at large.  Thousands die every year from accidents involving drunk drivers.  And while people might argue that an initial offense deserves some leniency — because the person might not be aware of their blood alcohol levels, or the degree of their impairment, or the risks — you simply cannot justify repeated offenses.

drunkdriverThe Texas man who pled guilty to his 10th offense, for example, was found swerving back and forth and driving on the wrong side of the road.  He had served time for his prior offenses, in both Texas and Colorado, and he nevertheless admitted to police officers that he had consumed most of a bottle of whiskey found in his car and then getting behind the wheel.  A person like that simply has no regard for the safety of the general public, and is engaging in recidivist conduct that exposes his fellow citizens to unreasonable risk.  Indeed, you might consider the repeat offenses to be a kind of perverse cry for help.

Drunk driving is one of those areas where society has seen a sea change in prevailing views.  People used to make jokes about drunk drivers, and police officers used to escort the over-the-limit driver home, rather than taking them to jail.  No longer — and for good reason.  Drunk drivers who are repeat offenders are dangerous to themselves and to the rest of us.  When someone has had nine prior offenses and still has not learned their lesson, I have no problem with saying that they deserve to spend their life behind bars.

Considering The Self-Driving Car

Google has announced that it will be building and producing its own self-driving vehicles, rather than retrofitting cars produced by other manufacturers.  The announcement means that we’re one step closer to the future envisioned in sci-fi books of days gone by — but I’m not sure it’s a future that I like.

According to the BBC story linked above, the Google car will look like a cute little cartoon bug, with two lights like eyes.  (That’s a specific design feature to make a self-driving car seem more harmless and fun and to encourage people to give it a try.)  It will seat two, be electrically powered, have a top speed of 25 mph, and have only a stop-go button — no steering wheel or pedals.  The car will follow Google maps built for the vehicle and operate using radar and laser sensors.  Google says its self-driving cars have already covered 700,000 miles of roadway, and it will produce a fleet of 200 cars and test them in Detroit within a year to make further advances in self-driving technology.

Advocates of self-driving cars say they will be safer for the car’s drivers, for other drivers, and for pedestrians.  If the cars are limited to 25 mph, of course, there is bound to be a safety enhancement, because there is a direct correlation between vehicle speed at the time of a crash and severity of injury.  Pedestrians also will benefit by a design that features a foam front end rather than a bumper.  But the safety arguments go deeper than that.  They assert that computer programs, lasers, and machines are bound to be more precise and careful on the road than humans, with no risk of distracted, texting drivers, drunken, impaired drivers, or macho, road raging drivers.

I’m somewhat skeptical about relying wholly on a machine guidance system — anyone who has GPS knows that it isn’t infallible — but more than that I’m leery of a future where machines do more and more for human beings.  We’ve already got problems with people becoming less active, less creative, and less self-reliant; self-driving cars is just another step toward a future of flabby, passive people waiting for a machine to move them around in slow-moving cars designed to maximize safety and security.  Sorry, but I don’t like it.

The Terrible Costs Of Drunk Driving

Richard has a really powerful piece in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about a fatal drunk driving incident that has devastated two families.  It’s a very sad story about one life cut short, another changed forever, and mothers, wives, friends, and children wrestling with the terrible aftermath.

Drunk driving is one of those areas of conduct where societal perceptions have changed completely during my lifetime.  In the ’50s, ’60s, and early ’70s, when comedians and celebrities frequently joked about drinking and driving, police often seemed bemused by drunk drivers and occasionally would escort them home rather than arresting them.  When people finally focused on the true costs of drunk driving, thanks to the work of advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the tolerance ended and state criminal laws changed to ensure that drunk driving was appropriately punished.

Despite all of the public service announcements, ad campaigns, sobriety checkpoints, and special police patrols, however, drunk driving continues.  In 2012, 10,322 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in America — a number which represents an increase over 2011.  Richard’s piece today forcefully reminds us of the individual stories of personal loss, anguish, and pain that lie behind each one of the abstract statistics.