Despite a lowered threshold for drinking and driving in Missouri, the latest statistics were released Monday and alcohol-related fatalities are actually on the rise here. That is somewhat alarming since the general thinking was that eliminating more drinking drivers from the roadways would reduce fatalities. But Missouri's pattern is similar to other states with the lowered threshold; half of those states also saw traffic fatality increases in the first year of the new law.
In 2002, the latest year available, 292 Missourians were killed in alcohol-related accidents. That's an increase of almost 30 deaths despite the new law lowering the DWI threshold from .10 percent to .08 percent. But if Missouri follows the trends in other states, the numbers should slowly begin to fall.
I'm getting sick and tired of complaining about the lax attitude of our society toward drunk drivers. I've carried this crusade for nearly two decades and little improvement has resulted. What truly amazes me is the apathetic attitude toward drunk drivers.
It's not a valid comparison, but politicians far and wide are blasting away daily at the loss of life in Iraq where - as of today - 501 Americans have lost their lives. But those very same political voices are strangely silent over the fact that 17,410 Americans lost their lives last year to drunk drivers. I recognize the comparisons are not accurate but the lack of true resolve to remove drunk drivers from the roads is frightening. It's also sickening.
The newer drinking limits did bring about an additional 5,000 or more arrests in Missouri. And that in itself may have prevented countless mishaps. But we'll never know. What we do know is that far too many people here and elsewhere ignore the law and get behind the wheel of a vehicle when they have had far too much to drink.
We should applaud the judges and prosecutors who aggressively pursue DWI convictions and who put teeth into the law. We should not allow plea bargains because someone has the financial ability to hire a good lawyer. Instead, we should hand out equal punishment and it should be severe.
Here's one final sad irony to this saga. Nationally, deaths from drunk drivers has remained fairly constant for about five years. We have reached a plateau of about 17,000 deaths from drunk drivers despite changes in the laws of virtually every state. The irony is that we have come to "accept" that many deaths. What is wrong with a society that tolerates that many deaths from a problem that can be corrected?