Behind the Wheel

[drinks]“I was read my last rights on multiple occasions – they didn’t think I was going to make it,” communication senior Joshua Clark said. On Feb. 17, 2001, Clark was driving home after playing basketball when he was struck by a drunk driver. The police found Clark unconscious at the scene, and he remained in a coma for over a month. He suffered a broken collar bone, several broken ribs, a broken sternum and mild brain damage. It took him more than two years to learn how to walk again.
“I wanted to forgive [the drunk driver], but she never even made an effort to see if I was OK or even alive,” Clark said. “She was more concerned about the dent in her SUV.”
According to the MSU police department, accidents resulting from drunk driving are a severe problem. The search for a solution is underway. The city of East Lansing has done a great job focusing on the problems of drinking and driving and how to solve them. “We are up to our wrists in blood,” said Tom Wibert, East Lansing chief of police. “We’ve made the elimination of drunk driving a priority.”
In 2006, the police department recorded the highest number of arrests in 15 years. As an incentive for officers to prioritize the issue, the East Lansing Police Department (ELPD) has created an annual award given to the officer who arrests the most drunk drivers. “We now teach our officers that there is a big difference in actively hunting for drunk drivers and just waiting until one crosses your path,” Wibert said.
In order to promote the prevention of drunk driving incidents, the ELPD has joined forces with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). The ELPD and MADD are working together to provide a mandatory victims impact panel session for convicted drunk drivers. MADD is responsible for hosting the event, and there are always police officers present to share their personal stories about drunk driving-related accidents. In Michigan, the legal limit for driving is a .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) level; in terms of drinks, consuming about four beers in one hour will put a 150-pound male at the legal limit.
“We are the prevention end, while the police are the enforcement end – together, we make a good team,” said Amy Gnotek, an interdisciplinary studies in social science senior and president of the university SADD chapter.
[dizzy] This past December, MSU SADD members held a victim impact panel for MSU students and staff. In an auditorium filled with MADD representatives, ELPD officers and other local authorities, the goal of the panel was to find a solution: what can be done to prevent people from drinking and driving? “We need high visibility of law enforcement, (to) interlock ignition systems; initiative to explore steering wheels that register blood alcohol level, awareness and the increase of penalties,” state representative Mark Meadows said.
These prevention tactics are what SADD members hope to portray in their meetings. They want students to understand drinking and driving isn’t something to be taken lightly. SADD also teaches students no one is exempt from the impacts of drinking and driving.
“We never think it is going to be us: we picture the drunk old man who sits at the bar every night and then grabs his keys and takes off. But the truth is, good people make mistakes, too,” SADD adviser Debbie Smith said. “It could just as easily be the smart devoted student who rarely drinks, but decides to have a few to relax after finals and can’t find another way to get home.”
Victims and drivers are not the only ones touched by drinking and driving incidents: family and friends of the victims are affected as well. “I lost one of my good friends to a drunk driver,” art education junior Amanda Ossipove said. “I think more should be done to show people how big of a problem this really is.”
[mug2]During the victims impact panel, Smith explained how her best friend’s drinking and driving experience impacted her life. While in high school, Smith’s best friend was flung from a car after she decided to ride passenger with her intoxicated friend. Smith’s friend went to the prom in a body cast, and she was confined to her bed for most of the year. Her friend has had multiple back surgeries and constant back problems, and the accident is also the reason why she is unable to bear children.
“Her accident affected me because I lost my best friend,” Smith said. “We couldn’t do the things we use to do together. It’s a split-second devastation that lasts for a life time.”
[windshield]Similar tragedies caused by drunk driving are the reason for the formation of SADD at MSU. SADD is a new student organization, started this year by Gnotek. After losing two close friends in an accident caused by a drunk driver, Gnotek started SADD with only 15 members; the popularity of the group has grown, resulting in a membership of more than 50 people who want to advocate the prevention of drinking and driving.
For the past two years, SADD has sponsored a St. Patrick’s Day event. Because St. Patrick’s Day has the highest number of drinking and driving arrests for one day, the group decided to have a prevention celebration. The day holds special significance for another reason: on St. Patrick’s Day in 2005, the most recent drunk driving fatality occurred in East Lansing.
In all, about 1 of 4 people will be affected by a drunk driver in his or her lifetime, and this statistic is the force behind SADD’s philosophy: if we say nothing and do nothing, we will achieve nothing.
“If everyone had a guaranteed ride home when they went out, then people who drink and drive wouldn’t have to anymore,” interdisciplinary studies junior Shirah Farber said.
As long as the bars stay open late and apartments and houses advertise for ragers, there will be people who still believe their driving abilities and reflexes are in a good condition. In a key law enforcement position, Wibert is calling for the elimination of the idea that drinking and driving is acceptable. The formation of SADD at the university is one small step toward this goal, but a much bigger step could be taking the wheel for someone who has had one too many beers on a weekend night.

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