As I write this column, I am volleying between anger and sorrow.
I’m saddened by the fact that within less than three weeks, three innocent lives were lost in and around Ahwatukee to alleged drunk-driving accidents. I’m angry because it seems nothing stops these eminently stoppable tragedies from happening at all.
On Oct. 21, a promising young singer from the White Mountains and her fiancé – who just was promoted to a hotel manager – were killed in a five-car collision on I-10 near Wild Horse Pass. Then, on Nov. 2, an Ahwatukee mom out for an early morning jog in Lakewood was killed.
The drivers arrested in both cases were women in their mid-20s. The suspect in the I-10 accident had her 3-year-old daughter in the car and tried to walk away.
For as long as I can remember, I have been writing or editing stories about drunk-driving cases that end in tragedies like these. And after four-plus decades, I despair over the likelihood I’ll keep doing that.
I’m not so naive as to think drunk driving will stop entirely. On the other hand, I’m not so jaded as to think we should just say stuff happens.
The accident that last week claimed the life of Martha Hilts when all she was doing was taking a pre-sunrise jog came two days after a four-day statewide DUI enforcement action tied to Halloween rounded up 447 arrests for drunk driving. The average blood-alcohol content in those arrests was .154 – nearly twice the legal limit.
The stats compiled by the Arizona Department of Transportation for Arizona DUI crashes last year are even more hair-raising.
Consider: 307 people were killed – higher than five years ago but slightly lower than 2015 and accounting for one third of all traffic-related fatalities in the state. Nearly 3,300 more people were injured. Just over 4,900 of all crashes involved drunk driving.
The fact that the total number of DUI-related crashes represented less than 4 percent of all accidents in 2016 in Arizona will bring small comfort to the loved ones of those who died or the people who were injured and their families.
Nor is it all that comforting to know that since 1982, drunk-driving fatalities have been cut in half – more than twice the percentage reduction in all crash-related fatalities.
And when you consider the fact that Arizona has one of the toughest – if not THE toughest – DUI laws in the nation and frequent aggressive law enforcement actions to boot, who wouldn’t be disturbed by the state’s drunk-driving stats for last year?
I guess I can understand the psychology of the drunk drivers who zip out on an errand or find their way home after they’ve had a few drinks.
Alcohol will do that to many people, blinding them to the fact that they’re barely capable of operating an electric toothbrush, let alone something weighing a couple tons.
Do we take a chance after even a drink to run out to the store, thinking we’re in control? What do we do when we see a relative, friend or acquaintance having more than one bottle of beer or one glass of wine? Do we halfheartedly suggest they not get behind the wheel? Do we just ignore them until they’re barely able to stand? Do we continue to ignore them even then?
I’d say if the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then we’re part of the problem.
And I am damn sick of seeing that problem wreck so many people’s lives.