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Monday, October 24, 2005

Drunken Legislation

As Massachusetts lawmakers gut the stiffer penalties from a potential drunk driving law called Melanie's Bill, a Dedham teen named Lisa O'Connell runs down two Bridgewater State College students and their friend – killing one – while driving with a blood alcohol content level three times the legal limit. Should we feel bad for the victims? Should we feel bad for Lisa; who has been on Prozac since the death of her mother two years ago? Should we be disgusted with our lawmakers for not taking drunk driving seriously? Given the latest news, we should rethink our views on drunk driving and the penalties that should be imposed upon those who recklessly drive while under the influence.

There is no excuse for driving drunk. I myself have gotten blitzed on many occasion and made it home safely. This of course was when I was living in Boston and I would walk to the clubs and either stumble, T or taxi home. Now that I live outside the city, anytime I plan on drinking, I consider the fact that I'll be driving to and fro and therefore, limit my beverage intake to a minor amount that I can handle while still being aware.

Notice in my confession, I use the word "I" quit a bit. "I'll be driving" and "I take responsibility". I don't expect a bartender to stop serving me. I don't count on my friends to take the keys. I don't rely on anyone but myself to control my alcohol intake and carry out my responsibility of getting me home safely.

While it's tragic that a young girl made a terrible mistake, it's not "unfortunate" that someone died as a result. It is criminal - more specifically - homocide. Regardless of her past record or prior experiences, there is no excuse for recklessness in light of the fact that drunk driving is a mainstream issue. It's not like she didn't know that driving drunk was bad – no one can claim that defense. She probably did think, "it won't happen to me". Well she was wrong and now someone is dead.

I'm not naive thinking that drunk driving can be ended with stiffer penalties. I do however believe in taking responsibility and paying for your mistakes. Mandatory stiff penalties for first time offenders will certainly decrease the amount of "casual mishaps" while giving prosecutors more ammunition to address chronic drunkards. The Massachusetts law put forth those provisions and was quite robust (given current lack of legislation). The real issue with Melanie’s Bill was that a group of drunk driving defense lawyers were allowed to rework the bill and finish it hours before the final vote. It's unfortunate that legislating under the influence of lobbyists is not a crime.

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