Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wisconsin is losing her most precious resources

As the years pass, time seems to dull the pain. The pain never seems to completely go away, occasionally something triggers the old wound, and you begin the process of healing all over again.

This process of reopening a wound happened again this week. It began on Tuesday morning as I was listening to Dan, Nicole, and Pat, on 1130 AM “The Early Spin”. The three began to discuss drinking and driving. Normally, when I hear discussions about drinking and driving, I would flip off my radio or turn off my TV. It is too painful for me to listen too. This time I thought to myself that two of the three people on the radio are conservatives; they would probably defend tough laws on drinking and driving. Well, not this time.

The reason I was so disappointed in the conservative talk show hosts is that I lost someone very dear to me in a drunken driving crash many years ago. My friend Chris was heading home from work one night when a drunk driver struck her vehicle. She died in the hospital about an hour after the crash.

It has been almost 20 years and I still struggle to talk about her death. It is difficult to describe the heartbreak of losing someone you care about to a drunk driver.

The three talk show hosts were discussing the issue that the AG candidates were speaking on. The first issue is whether to criminalize the first offense for drinking and driving. One of the talk show hosts, Dan, seemed to agree the proper thing to do was to criminalize the first offense of drinking and driving. Good, I agree.

The second issue they were discussing was sobriety checkpoints. All three talk show hosts were against any sobriety checkpoints. The three gave the typical excuses I have heard for years.

· Sobriety checkpoints are unconstitutional. Wrong! Actually, this is not true. The Supreme Court has ruled on this issue many times and have deemed that the sobriety checkpoints are in fact constitutional.(See Michigan vs. Sitz, 1990)
· Sobriety checkpoints do not work. Although this argument has been made so many times, we will never know exactly how well sobriety checkpoints actually work. The whole point of a sobriety checkpoint is to prevent drinking and driving. We will never know exactly how many folks actually decided not to drink and drive because they believed that might have to go thru a sobriety checkpoint. Some folks actually believe that unless tons of arrests are made at these checkpoints then they are not working. Fewer and fewer arrests at these checkpoints are exactly what we want. Get the drunk drivers off the road, that is the whole point!
· Sobriety checkpoints are inconvenient. Yes, they are inconvenient. Some are probably more inconvenient than others are. I have been stopped on two occasions at a sobriety checkpoint. Both times occurred in Illinois on a Saturday night as I was driving back from shopping in the city. Neither time did I spend longer that 5 minutes in traffic and no more than 20 seconds speaking to the police officer. The police officer asked me a couple of questions, I looked the man right in the eye as I spoke to him and he sent me on my way after giving me a polite “thank you and have a good evening”. I had not been drinking, so I did not feel inconvenienced on either occasion. Since people are dying every day due to drunken driving, isn’t it worth a couple of minutes out of our weekends to do whatever we can to save lives?

Now I am not going to say that any of these talk show hosts were doing anything to condone drinking and driving, because they were doing no such thing. In my opinion, they are just dead wrong about this issue.

Of course, even thru this discussion, they had to drag politicians into this conversation. Paul Bucher and Kathleen Falk both supported sobriety checkpoints. JB Van Hollen did not. The talks show hosts implied that JB’s reason for not supporting sobriety checkpoints is that “it would clog up the courts.” If I could have gotten thru on the phone to these three talk show hosts, I would have asked the question- “Would JB rather clog the courts or the morgues?”

Thank goodness I could not get thru on the phone because I have not found a single article where JB is making this claim. Therefore, I am a little cautious as to exactly what JB’s claim on this issue is.

Since I do not exactly know where JB stands on this issue, I would prefer to direct my questions to JB. I do not want to find out that JB Van Hollen was misrepresented or his comments were taken out of context. This would not be fair to JB. I will not be blasting JB on this position until I fully understand what JB’s position is. I am certain JB Van Hollen does not condone drinking and driving.

This issue is so important and deserves the attention of our AG candidates. In 2004 alone, more than 17,000 were killed in alcohol related crashes in the US. In the last 10 years, over 250,000 Americans have died in alcohol related crashes. Over 40% of the fatal crashes in the state of Wisconsin are alcohol related. Since this is the #1 reason that people are dying on our streets in Wisconsin, it is imperative that this issue be dealt with NOW!

I cannot understand why we still have people dying on our streets because of drinking and driving. Their deaths are unnecessary and preventable. There is absolutely no good excuse why any American should die because of drinking and driving.

When the Wisconsin District Attorney’s Association was asked what their opinion on this issue was, Scott Horne stated:

“Prosecutors are concerned about resource issues”

To all of the District Attorneys across Wisconsin and all four of our Attorney General candidates- pictured below you will see a photograph of a resource that Wisconsin can no longer afford to lose.

Tyler James Greeley, Clear Lake Wisconsin- Age 3, killed June 30, 2002 by a drunk driver



Anonymous said...

Checkpoints are the most un-American thing I've ever heard suggested. I don't care what the Supreme Court has ever said about the, (and they're wrong) it's un-American. Yeah, I feel bad every time I hear about a death on the road, but stopping every driver because a few of them might have had a few drinks is simply wrong.

Yes, we want to stop drunk driving. Who doesn't?

But penalizing everyone who hasn't had a drink and happens to be taking a certain route is simply un-American.

Increase the penalties, fine. Make every DUI have mandatory jail time, fine.

But do not -- I REPEAT, DO NOT!! -- penalize people who are driving and haven't had a thing to drink.

I guarantee you, if we ever had sobriety checkpoints and I come up on one, I will be arrested. Not because I was drinking, but because I refuse to submit to Hitler-esque government hassling of the law-abiding.

If you want to live in a fascist country, move to one. Don't make the free countries fascist.

Anonymous said...

The checkpoints don't seem any different to me than airport searches and metal detectors. No one complains about that. I think Kathy is making a similar argument here re pub. safety

Russ said...

Government has a responsibility to protect it's citizens from harm by others.
Having said that, I believe law enforcement should be given a directive to develop a plan to reduce the drunken driving problem.
There's no doubt in my mind that punishment for DWIs must increase. What's more important however is to give police the tools and authority to develop new ways to stop drunken drivers BEFORE they kill innocent people.
That includes the authority for police officers to stop suspicious drivers without fear of some Judge reprimanding them afterward.

Anonymous said...

Apparently "right is right" has never lost someone to an idiotic drunk driver. I, like, the author lost someone. A friend, a mother, a teacher, who left behind devastated students and a 4 year old daughter, the night before graduation. Struck down by a 17 year old drunk. Traffic slows down for an accident, everyone suffers a death, I am perfectly willing to slow down and wait if it means finding that ONE person that needs to be STOPPED!

Kate said...

I knew a young man who did kill a family while driving drunk. He was never the same afterwards, and ended up being institutionalized for a while. I also knew a young man who was decapitated riding in a car with a drunk driver. I've never understood Wisconsin's unwillingness to prosecute "first time" offenders. Or the extremely light sentences for those who continue getting busted for driving drunk, some up to ten times. Drunk driving is just plain wrong! If check points will stop the stupid and dangerous behavior, then so be it!

realdebate said...

There is a slippery slope here I have not rectified yet.

What's next?

Checkpoints to check for seatbelts, that kids are in the proper chairs, that licenses are valid, that plates are not expired?

You want to cut drunk driving, make the first offense a felony, have cops hang out around bars and pull people over for any legitimate traffic enforcement reason they can think of, etc.

The random checkpoint I think is too far.

But would someone, anyone, please get Peg's view on all of this please?

Third Eye said...

Criminalizing first-time DWI offenders will likely have no appreciable effect. That's mainly because it doesn't attack the root of the problem, which is that alcohol is a deeply-embedded element of Wisconsin's culture. All it really does is tell people "Don't get caught", which most drunk drivers don't.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't really matter if I did or didn't know someone killed by a drunk driver. That's just bringing emotion into a debate that is supposed to be about facts and laws and the Constitution. In my view, checkpoints shred the idea of living in a free society.

It's almost a little like the debate concerning terrorists vs. security. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said something to the effect that those who would give up a little freedom for security will end up with neither.

As an aside, I'm curious. Has there ever been a poll that would indicate whether or not those in favor of checkpoints tend to be more liberal, more conservative or if it's pretty much even across the board?

Anonymous said...

I also believe that checkpoints are ridiculous and un-American. However, I do not condone drinking and driving. Here in my own city (Waukesha) this past Saturday the City police department decided to have checkpoints for seatbelts. I was outraged. Because they cannot set up checkpoints for drinking and driving, they instead decide to use entrapment to catch people. This is another loophole they decided to go through, which is still just as inconvenient.
I also find it to be stupid to make a first offense, a criminal offense. I am usually the DD when I go out with friends. But even if not being the DD, and just enjoying a night out for dinner, having 2 beers (because I am a women and petite), even if I am not “drunk” or even slightly feeling the effects of the two beers, I am charged with drinking and driving, a felony, and lose all rights associated with begin charged with such. How can we say that is okay. I can almost guarantee and will agree Van Hollen that this would do nothing but clog up the court system. Surely there needs to be stricter consequences for 2nd or more offenders, but a first time, come on people get real!