Drunken driving: The ultimate consequence is life

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 21, 2013

 A car involved in a drunken driving crash in September is left mangled on the side of the road in West Bloomfield.

A car involved in a drunken driving crash in September is left mangled on the side of the road in West Bloomfield.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — In 2012, 10,322 human lives ended too early in the United States from drunken driving accidents, equating to one person every 51 minutes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD.

To put the death toll into perspective, Judge Kimberly Small of the 48th District Court said she compares the statistic to the approximately 3,000 people who lost their lives on 9/11. Hopefully, she said, that attack will not be repeated again, but the number of deaths from drunken driving continues year after year.’

’Tis the season for holiday parties, New Year’s celebrations and, of course, a hike in drunken driving arrests. While the police departments increase their patrols during the party season, the cost and consequences of drunken driving are too high, and the risk to the driver and others is unlimited, stressed Michael Patton, West Bloomfield chief of police.

With the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “You Just Blew $10,000” advertisement plastered across media markets, the tendency has been to focus on the monetary cost of drunken driving, which can include fines, legal fees and increased insurance rates. However, Small said the cost of drunken driving extends to the cost of human life. 

“The only thing that separates someone who has killed from someone who has been caught by the police is luck,” Small said. From broken bones to head injuries, Small said approximately a quarter of a million people per year are injured at the hands of a driver operating while intoxicated, but the only way to save lives is to stop drunken driving in the first place.

When the siren sounds
While on patrol, officers watch for erratic driving, and once officers perform a traffic stop, drivers face a series of sobriety tasks, including heel-to-toe walking, standing on one leg, reciting the alphabet, counting backwards and finally taking a preliminary breath test.

State law requires officers to check drivers’ mouths, instructing them to spit out any object or substance. This step is performed prior to sobriety tasks or the preliminary breath test. Over the years, myths have surfaced about ways to defeat a Breathalyzer, like sucking on pennies, altering breathing patterns and chewing gum; but one after another, each has been debunked. Lt. Tim Diamond of the West Bloomfield Police Department said he does not know of anything, substance or object, that can adjust the outcome of a preliminary breath test.

“Based on the results of those tasks, an officer will decide whether or not to make an arrest,” Diamond said. If an arrest takes place, the person is put in handcuffs and placed into the patrol car, and their car is impounded, he added. But the process doesn’t stop there.

Back at the police station, drivers are read their chemical test rights, and they are typically offered a Breathalyzer test. If drivers submit to the test, the length of their lodging at the department is dependent on how high a result they blow, Diamond said. The higher the result, the longer they stay, and once sober, drivers are released on a $100 bond and given a receipt with their court date.

When the gavel strikes down
In an ideal world, the Police Department would have an arrest- and incident-free holiday season, but since Prohibition ended in 1933, the likelihood of that is slim. On average, according to MADD, a drunken driver has driven intoxicated 80 times before his or her first arrest. According to the Michigan State Police, the costs and consequences of a first-offence drunken driving conviction with a blood alcohol content 0.08-0.16 percent are, but not limited to the following:

• Up to a $500 fine.
• Municipality reimbursement.
• Up to 93 days in jail.
• Up to 360 hours of community service.
• Up to 180 days license suspension.
• 6 points on a driver’s license.

In 2010, Michigan’s high BAC law, or the “super drunk” law, went into effect, classifying a BAC of 0.17 and higher as “super drunk.” The consequences and costs of a first offence High BAC conviction are the following:

• Up to a $1,000 fine.
• Up to 180 days in jail.
• Up to 360 hours of community service.
• Up to a one-year license suspension.
• 6 points on a driver’s license.
• Mandatory completion of an alcohol treatment program.

Of course, the ultimate consequence of driving intoxicated is death.

“Drunk driving comes down to one word, and that word is ‘convenience,’” Small said. “What people are saying is their convenience factor is more important to them than our lives. As I always like to say, their rights end where ours begin.”

With 28 people dying every day as a result of drunken driving car crashes, according NHTSA data, officials don’t want you to be the one who kills a family of four because you drove while intoxicated.