Monday, May 10, 2010

You Can't Stay Here

KELO recently did a story about repeat drunk drivers and why they do it. It's adequate for what it is - you can't expect deep reporting in a minute and a half - but it seemed to concentrate on the drunk part of the situation, while driving was only mentioned as a consequence of the impaired decision-making induced by booze. Alcohol is admittedly the root cause of the problem, but I think the driving part deserves some attention.

Why do these people need to drive? I don't mean why do they think they can, but why do they put themselves in a position where driving must be considered? Usually it's like this: they drive to a bar or some other setting where they're not allowed to stay, so they have to go home or somewhere else. The alcohol-induced poor decision-making kicks in, and the trouble starts. But what interests me is the thought process at the beginning, when they’re presumably still sober.

Assuming it’s not an event that requires attendance, such as a wedding, why go out at all when it would be much safer – and cheaper - to stay home and drink? Use the money saved to get a computer and a good internet connection and wander the web. (Admittedly this is not without its hazards. A friend of mine who regularly did this had to be careful around eBay after a few beers, lest he buy something he’d regret. Also, some of the material I come across seems to have been posted by people under the influence. At least I hope they were.)

I think drinking in the company of others who are doing the same (if not to the same degree), besides providing a more convivial atmosphere, makes them feel less like they have a problem. It’s easier for them to think of themselves as "social drinkers", of which society is much more tolerant. A group of people drinking is portrayed relatively positively in media, especially commercials (with the obligatory “please drink responsibly” in miniscule print, of course). It’s usually the lone drinker who is featured in the ads for treatment centers.

Why do they drive to where they’re going to drink? That’s fairly simple; driving is usually the most convenient way to get there. As for getting back, as many times as some of these people have been caught, they’ve probably made it home many more times, so they always think they can make it again.

There are various ways to deal with this, each with drawbacks that, while usually not major, can serve as excuses for someone who doesn’t really want to change. Having parties at home may be not possible or convenient; there may not be establishments within walking distance; public transportation may not be readily available. Law enforcement can only do so much. The serial offenders have been through all that: many are driving without valid licenses, and some have already done time.

Given all that, the KELO story is probably correct in emphasizing the drinking. Controlling that is really the only single consistent – if not easy - way to handle the problem. But finding ways to get them to voluntarily refrain from driving is worth trying. Then - whatever other problems they may have - at least they’d be less dangerous.