You may not like what I have to say. Feel free to disagree, but you have been forewarned.
The recent uproar over Roger Ebert’s infamous “Friends don’t let jackasses drive drunk,” tweet has me thinking about the way we react to and deal with drunk driving. You’ll note I don’t say “alleged” drunk driving; toxicology reports indicate that Ryan Dunn’s blood alcohol level was more than two times the legal limit.
However you want to play it, he was drunk.
He was also driving recklessly; accident reconstructionists estimate his speed at 140 miles per hour.
Right after Ebert sent that tweet, fury spread far. He explained that he had sent it after seeing a picture of Dunn Dunn himself had tweeted, showing him drinking hours before the crash. The outrage seemed to center around the question over whether Dunn was, in fact, drunk, and that Ebert shouldn’t have drawn a conclusion based on the photo. No, no one could know until the tests came back.
Herein lies my problem.
In this country, we delude ourselves about the combination of alcohol and multiple-ton machines. There is no doubt that Dunn was drinking before the crash. He provided proof of that himself, in the picture that was later removed. That the cause (drinking) and the effect (the crash) were questioned, with people decrying Ebert for making assumptions about how the accident occurred, is ridiculous.
When a human being drinks alcohol, that human being becomes impaired.
There is no special breed of human immune to the effects of alcohol.
No, not even you.
Some people don’t feel as impaired, but that doesn’t mean they are not impaired.
There is nothing magical about 0.08%, the legal limit for blood alcohol in the U.S. It does not scientifically show impairment above and sobriety below. That level, 0.08% is a compromise, because no one is willing to say that if you have a drink, one drink, you cannot drive. Not that it would take one drink to raise the blood alcohol of anyone, even someone like me, who feels impairment after a single glass of wine, to that limit. According to this handy blood alcohol calculator, a man of 180 pounds who drinks 3 beers in 2 hours only has a blood alcohol level of 0.034%. Nowhere near the legal limit. If I up that to 5 beers, we get to 0.079%.
That’s a lot of beer. In two hours (please do not take this information as instructive on your ability to drive after drinking, because that is kinda the opposite of my point).
Why do we need to allow a person to have five beers before hitting the road in a machine that can take him out, as well as anyone with him or around him?
That same man could have a beer with dinner, let’s say, over the course of an hour, and have a .006% blood alcohol level.
The hypocrisy of the 0.08% policy is unnerving. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that raises a person’s blood alcohol to 0.08%.
The legal limit for driving.
They estimate, as we calculated above, the amount needed for men is about 5 drinks in a two hour period, and for women, about 4.
So basically we are telling binge drinkers to hit the road? Really? When you think about how much alcohol it takes to reach the legal limit, it’s no wonder people have trouble judging whether they are impaired.
I’m draconian in my view of the issue: I wouldn’t have a problem with a 0.00% legal limit (which, as I said above, would still actually permit a drink with a meal for many people). Frankly, I think that drunk driving should be prosecuted far more aggressively, with much higher stakes. There isn’t one person who doesn’t know that drinking and then driving can prove deadly, and like shooting a gun in a crowd, it should be handled very seriously.
Why is it so important that people should be able to drive after drinking? And not only drinking, but binge drinking?
When you realize how much alcohol it takes to reach the legal limit, think about those drivers who are over 0.08%. Do you really think they should get chance after chance to kill someone?
I’m sorry for Dunn’s family, and even more sorry for the family of his passenger. It is a tragedy, but an entirely preventable one.
I will repeat myself.
This tragedy was entirely preventable.
Clearly Dunn thought he was invincible. That was evident from his line of work and his string of car crashes (according to TMZ, those crashes led Bam Margera to predict he’d die in a car crash years ago). Because of an overabundance of luck, it appears he decided it would hold one more time.
He probably thought that he was too skilled to die in an accident, either from alcohol or speed.
And he was a stunt professional.
So here it is, Friday night. If you are going out, and if you are drinking, please really think about whether you need to be driving. And if you are driving, please remember that 0.08% is a long way from sober.