In a college town, this is a common scenario: you’re out with some friends—one drink turns into several—and suddenly it’s time to leave. It’s easy to come up with excuses to get behind the wheel: I’m a good driver; It’s not that far; I’ll only do it once; or, I’ve done it before and nothing’s happened. Of course, none of this matters the moment something terrible does happen. Cate Duke, a spokesperson for the Eugene chapter of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), notes that when you drive impaired, “You’re taking away your ability to focus and react. You’re literally playing Russian Roulette.”
Definitions and Statistics What constitutes a DUII? According to Oregon.gov, “You may be found guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicants (DUII) if you operate a motor vehicle while you are under the influence of intoxicating liquor, and/or a controlled substance.” While we’re on the right track in Oregon— the percentage of fatalities determined to be alcohol-related went from 41.5% in 1998 to 32.2% in 2013—there are still plenty of people getting on the road when they shouldn’t.
Recent studies show that “Crashes involving alcohol and/or other drugs account for nearly half of the fatal and serious injury crashes occurring in Oregon each year” and, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “In 2014, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.” While alcohol is often involved in these driving accidents, impairment can also result from the use of other drugs such as marijuana or prescription medication. Even if you take something legal or prescribed by a doctor, your ability to focus can be altered. In the event of a traffic-related death, Duke argued, “Would they be any less dead because what you were taking was legal?”
Impact on the Community Duke joined MADD in 2012, but the consequences of impaired driving were on her mind long before that. Six weeks before their high school graduation, Duke’s fiancé was killed by a drunk driver. The loss was so devastating that she didn’t finish high school until the following year and, even then, she didn’t continue onto college as originally planned.
“It completely destroyed me,” Duke said, as she remembers the depression, insomnia, and eating disorder that developed in response to this tragedy. Before joining MADD, Duke didn’t think there was anything she could do to make a difference. She would talk to others about her pain, but they often didn’t understand.
“It’s not the same as losing someone to a heart attack. If it’s preventable, it adds a different layer of pain.” This is just one story of how impaired driving can change the course of someone’s life, but Duke believes, “It’s devastating to the community; it has a ripple effect.”
Resources and Prevention If you’re interested in taking an active role in decreasing the incidence of DUIIs, MADD is a good place to start. According to their website, “When MADD was founded in 1980, an estimated 25,000 people were killed in drunk driving crashes each year. Since then, we’ve been able to cut that deadly toll by more than half, but there is still more work to be done.”
Members of MADD spread awareness in the community through print, radio, and TV ads, support victims and family members, and provide education to citizens so that the impacts of impaired driving stay front and center. While Corvallis doesn’t currently have a chapter of MADD, it only takes a few community members to make this happen.
What else can we do? A lot of prevention happens one-on-one. If you see someone who shouldn’t drive, you can physically remove the keys from the driver’s hands, call them a cab, or offer to drive them yourself if you’re up to the task, among other things. It requires a little extra work, but how would you feel if something happened, knowing you had the opportunity to stop it? It’s our responsibility as a community to monitor ourselves and help our friends and family make the right decisions. Duke reminds us that, “Everybody’s life is important. We all deserve to get home safely.”