Drunk driving creates ‘a hole in my heart that will never heal’

Summer can be an especially dangerous time for inexperienced younger drivers who might be tempted to mix drinking with trips to the beach, summer concerts and parties. Underage drinking poses huge dangers by itself, but when combined with driving, the risks are magnified.

To curb this dangerous behavior and to help educate teens and parents, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Consumer Protection Liquor Control Division (LCD) are lead members of an underage drinking coalition to implement a multi-faceted, high visibility media campaign centered on educating residents about the dangers of high-risk drinking and drunk driving.

In 2011, there were 9,878 fatalities in the United States involving drivers who were legally drunk (blood alcohol content of .08% or higher) at the time of the crash. In Connecticut during 2011, more than 45% of fatal crashes had some alcohol involvement and nearly 40% of those crashes involved a driver who was legally drunk.

And between 2007 and 2011, there were 31 impaired drivers from ages 16 to 20 who died on Connecticut roadways.

Local DUI enforcement checks

To combat this deadly and senseless loss of life, the DOT uses dedicated federal funding to help state and local police to carry out special enforcement campaigns aimed at catching drunken drivers.

Nearly 80 Connecticut police agencies participated in drunk driving enforcement during the Fourth of July holiday period, including approximately 20 agencies which conducted DUI checkpoints.

State Police and resident trooper towns alone arrested 65 motorists for drunken driving over the this four-day period, a total which does not include the arrests made by local municipalities.

This effort isn’t stopping after the holiday weekend; there is sustained enforcement of Connecticut’s impaired driving laws throughout the summer, a time known for increased drunken driving, especially amongst teens.

‘No warnings. No excuses’

Connecticut’s law enforcement community, both state and local, is serious about removing this deadly behavior from its roadways.

“Those who try to drink and drive this summer should be forewarned — we will be out in force looking for impaired drivers, and we will arrest you. No warnings. No excuses. If you drive impaired, you will be arrested,” State Police Lt. Paul Vance said.

Southington Police Chief Jack Daly, president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, echoed that sentiment: “Police will have zero tolerance for impaired drivers who choose to put themselves and everyone else on Connecticut roads at risk.”

Binge drinking

A second but equally important goal of the collaborative effort among state agencies and police officials is aimed at keeping teen drivers from engaging in risky drinking behavior. Binge drinking, defined as five or more drinks in a sitting, among teens has been increasing in Connecticut, and LCD is working with law enforcement to keep alcohol out of the hands of teenagers.

“Binge drinking among young people continues to be a serious problem; kids are obviously buying it somewhere or someone is buying it for them,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said.

“Parents and family members who provide alcohol to someone under age 21 not only break the law, but also contribute to a problem that frequently ends in death for someone’s son or daughter, just about every weekend,” Rubenstein said.

“There are too many motor vehicle accidents involving youth,” he said, “who have been drinking and too many young people being brought to emergency departments — often unconscious — due to alcohol over-consumption.”

Underage purchasers

Police officials and the state Liquor Control Board are taking steps to prevent teens from purchasing alcohol illegally, or having others illegally provide with them alcohol.

The LCD conducted more than 800 alcohol compliance checks throughout the state during 2012, including at restaurants, bars, package stores and grocery stores. These compliance checks led to more than 270 liquor permit suspensions for violations, most of which were for the illegal sale to minors.

Fines of approximately $1.35 million were also assessed on top of these suspensions, making a strong point to these establishments that the sale of alcohol to minors will not be tolerated in Connecticut.

Tragedies that are very real

These efforts are aimed at preventing tragedies that are very real. Mothers Against Drunk Driving serves victims of the violent crime of drunk driving every day.

Michele Taylor knows this pain all too well. Her daughter, Jenna Taylor, was killed in an alcohol-related crash on April 26, 2010.

“We will never know why our daughter got into her own car with someone she knew was drinking,” Taylor said. “We always taught our daughter never to drink and drive or to get into a vehicle with someone that had been drinking. We always said to call us; we will come and get you.”

Taylor is an active volunteer for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, speaking at high schools and at victim impact panels, and her message is clear: “These tragedies are 100% preventable. The pain is felt by family, friends, and everyone left behind.

“I urge parents to please talk to your teens to be safe and make smart choices,” she said. “No parent would ever want to go through what I have been through. It is truly a hole in my heart that will never heal.”

James Redeker is commissioner of the state Department of Transportation. William M. Rubenstein is commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection Liquor Control Division. Reuben F. Bradford is commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. Lt. Paul Vance is public information officer for the Connecticut State Police. Southington Police Chief Jack Daly is president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. Janice Margolis is executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.