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Column: Drinking and driving a national disgrace

Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / March 12, 1998

Saturday night, as I was driving on Louisiana Highway 51 in Ponchatoula, Iexperienced some of the worst weather conditions ever. The lightning wasfrightening and the sweeping rain could not have come down any harder.

I have traveled this highway many times over the years, at least once aweek, always on a Saturday night, to be specific. The one thing thatalways caught my attention was the number of vehicles at this certainbarroom. Saturday night seemed to be the biggest crowd ever. In all thebad weather, there were approximately 50 vehicles, mostly pickup trucks.

I grieved for the wives and children of the men in this bar who were leftalone at home.

I was reminded of a popular politician who, while running for statetreasurer in Louisiana, made a statement that I think cost him theelection. He said, and I quote, “The men in south Louisiana seem to besatisfied if they own a pickup truck, a shotgun and have a six-pack of beer.

Saturday morning, a news release shared that the U.S. Senate passed ameasure Thursday night as an amendment to a federal highway bill thatwould prohibit open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles. In otherwords, they oppose drinking and driving.At present, in Louisiana it’s OK for a driver to have one hand on thesteering wheel and a can of beer or a bottle of liquor in the other.

Earlier in the week, the Senate amended the same bill requiring Louisianaand 34 other states with blood-alcohol limits of .10 to lower that to .08.

Passing laws make for good conversation. The problem is not the laws, butthe enforcement of the laws.

George F. Brown, executive director of the Beer Industry League inLouisiana, said, “Apparently, they’ve gone nuts in Washington. It seems tome it’s just another feel-good thing that won’t help anybody.” He could beright.

If the barroom that I passed Saturday night had 50 drivers, I’m sure notone had a so-called designated driver. If the police in that parish justwaited for the people to leave and drive home, I guarantee 90 percent ofthem, if stopped and tested, would have been declared legally drunk, evenat the limit of .10.

It’s a known fact that one out of 10 drivers on any given weekend is drunkor high on illegal drugs.

When I first passed that barroom Saturday night, it was about 7 p.m. On myway back home, at about 11:30 p.m., there were still about 20 vehicles.

Without a doubt, 100 percent of those drivers were more than legallydrunk. Some of them probably don’t even remember getting home.

I am in favor of both of the amendments the Senate passed last week, buttheir efforts will be in vain if the laws are not enforced.

Every year, 17,000 American families get a phone call telling them that aloved one was killed in an alcohol-related traffic accident. That’s anational disgrace.

Here’s hoping Mr. George F. Brown will be proven wrong and that thelegislation is not just a feel-good thing, but the law will be enacted and,most importantly, enforced locally.

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