If You Must Drive Drunk, Please Wear a Seatbelt

 
And try not to speed, okay? That’s all I’m saying here, people. If I could have your attention, please — yes, that includes you two in the back. You there! Sit up, take off those caps, button your shirts, and place your hands on your desks. Keep them there until I’m finished. Or do you want to spend the afternoon in the principal’s office?
 
You do? You prefer it to class? Well then, I’m not going to accommodate you. You’re staying right here — how do you like that? Serves you right. Now please, a little respect. I’m spending my day off here. This is my own time. You think I guest lecture in Driver’s Ed for my jollies? (I heard that. Who said that? You are sick.) I spend five days a week in a patrol car . . . you think that what I fantasize about doing on my sixth is traipsing over here to check up on the progress of your acne? Yeah, you — the one who likes to make jokes. I know a good emergency dermatologist, you should give him a call sometime. Here’s his card. Take it. Take it!
 
Yeah, I know. That was “cold.” Don’t mess with the men in blue.
 
Now, what I was saying was this: Driving drunk is stupid. It can get you killed. It can kill innocent people. Nothing says “ten years in a cell with a big, handsy guy named Leroy” like a dead toddler you ran over because you’d finished a six-pack before going joyriding. I’ve seen too much of that in my life. I’ve had to send too many people just like you away, for a very long time, and I’m sick of it. I’ve seen girls like you, the one with the hair — yeah, you keep chewing on it, very attractive . . . I once knew a girl who kind of looked like you — before she went face-first through a plate of auto glass, then rolled 200 feet down the asphalt, most of the time kind of sliding, face down . . . They can do a lot with skin-grafts nowadays, but she mostly goes out at night, keeps to herself.
 
All right, what did we establish before the break? The legal limit for blood alcohol in this state; the legal penalties for DWI and DUI infractions; and the increased penalties for drivers who cause accidents because they were impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs. All that is important, and you’ll be responsible for knowing it on the written portion of your driving test.
 
But in the end, all that isn’t enough. We’ve been talking about all that stuff for decades, and it doesn’t seem to be working. We used to think that stressing the damage you could do to other people, even yourselves, would make a dent in the fact that you people seem to drink and drive like a bunch of wild Indians. But it didn’t. The numbers kept on going up, to the point where they’re describing the DWI problem as an “epidemic.”
 
So we tried to go a little harder on you, move from carrot to stick. We upped the penalties, started pulling more people over, and putting the ones we caught away for a longer time. But that had very little impact, and all it did was waste a bunch of prison cells on middle-class kids who otherwise weren’t doing any harm. And we’re running short of prison cells for poor people, who really need them.
 
That was when we came up with the principle we call “harm reduction.” Instead of focusing all our attention on trying to convince you people to “abstain” from drinking and driving, we also figured out ways to make it considerably safer when you do. Not that we’re approving of it, okay? Because we aren’t. No, smart guy. We aren’t. We think it’s stupid. It’s very, very dangerous. Okay?
 

But ultimately, the moralistic, legalistic approach seems not to work. People simply are going to drink and drive. There is a very strong human instinct we’re talking about here. People want to feel relaxed, confident, and free. And when do you feel more free than when you’ve finished that fifth bourbon and coke, and you’re kind of loose in the limbs, so you hop in your parents’ Suburban, put AC/DC’s Back in Black on the stereo, then drive at 85 through a 30 mile-per-hour zone? That kind of thing, as dangerous as it is, it’s simply going to happen. We can preach against it till we’re blue in the face, but if we leave it at that, if we focus exclusively on abstinence — well, we’re doing you people a disservice. We’re taking your lives in our hands by denying you information that just might save your lives. Because there are things you can do, if you’re going to drive drunk, to make the whole experience safer. Hence the title of my talk today, “Safe DWI.”

It’s never going to be 100 percent safe, okay? I want to emphasize that. There is always some risk, whenever you drive drunk. Or stoned. Or tweaked. But if you must drive under these impairments, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk:
 
1) For the love of God, wear a seatbelt. If you’re half-lit and you blow through a red light into another car, and both drivers are wearing seatbelts, there’s a 60 percent reduced chance that either driver will be thrown from the vehicle — which is how most driving-related injuries are sustained. Apart from, you know, when the vehicle explodes or catches fire.

2) Try to use a vehicle equipped with airbags and anti-lock steering. Borrow one, if you have to. For instance, from your parents, a neighbor, or a rental agency. There’s a pilot program in this state, whereby car-rental agencies get a government rebate every time they promote Safe DWI by renting that kind of Safe Vehicle to drivers who register above the legal limit.

3) Do your best, whenever you can, to stay within the boundaries of a single lane. I know, it’s going to look kind of fuzzy . . . maybe it will be hard to tell where your lane ends and the next lane begins. If that happens, it’s best to pull over, take a deep breath, and try to get your head together before you go back on the road.

4) Studies have shown a 37 percent reduction in DWI-related morbidity when the driving music chosen is something like Steely Dan or the Eagles, versus more traditional youth driving music, such as Van Halen. Lynyrd Skynyrd is considered particularly “high-risk.” There’s a rule to this, which we call “Measured, Mellow, and Melodic.” Those are the Three Ms of Safe DWI. What are the Three Ms? Let me write them on the board . . .
 
Now I know that some of your parents have been complaining about the Safe DWI program. Some of them didn’t want you to attend my lecture today. There are even preachers and priests, I’ve heard recently, who are standing up in the pulpit and condemning us — trying to get our program de-funded. Why are they so upset? Well, it seems they think we’re telling you that it’s “okay” to drive while intoxicated. But that is not what I’m saying, okay? Let me emphasize that once again. Do. Not. Drive. Drunk.
 
But some of you aren’t going to listen to me. You’re going to go out there with one hand on the wheel, and the other on a fifth of Johnny Walker. That’s just a fact. So if you do that — which you shouldn’t, right? — at least don’t do it unprotected. Practice Safe DWI, and chances are you’ll get home in one piece.
 
Okay, I’m open for questions.
 


John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of the graphic novel The Grand Inquisitor and is Writer-in-Residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire. He writes weekly for InsideCatholic.com.

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John Zmirak is the author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic's Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins (Crossroad). He served from October 2011 to February 2012 as editor of Crisis.

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