Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

You drink, You drive … You lose?

(Julia Manzerova/Flickr)
(Julia Manzerova/Flickr)

I was raised to believe that if you drank alcohol and got behind the wheel of a car, there would be consequences. Arrest, serious injury or even death would be the only outcomes. This was told to me time and time again: through the D.A.R.E. program, commercials proclaiming “You drink, you drive, you lose” and the smashed-up car sitting in the front lawn of a local business, all serving as reminders of the inevitable, life-altering consequences of drinking and driving.

The youth of America – and colleges in particular – exist in a culture of recklessness. A weekend doesn’t go by when an ambulance isn’t parked next to some dorm, transporting a student who took one too many shots to the hospital to get his or her stomach pumped. Every Monday, at least one DUI is documented in the police logs.

The act of drunk driving, for so many, is considered just another risk that comes with the culture of binge drinking and illegal drug use – just another thing for which you can get caught. Time and time again, it is chosen as the best course of action to make it back to wherever you need to be without incurring the wrath of parents, spending an awkward morning at a friend’s house or spending money on a cab. Although in high school I firmly believed that drunk driving was a crime reserved for old alcoholics who had no regard for human life, upon entering college I realized that that simply isn’t the case – many college students drive drunk regularly, whether to get home or to get a bite to eat.

Youth is all about taking risks – you only live once, these are the best years of your life, so you might as well do some crazy things, have some fun and make some “mistakes.” There is a fine, fine line, however, between having fun and endangering yourself, between being carefree and being dumb, and it’s a line that, under the influence of alcohol, most don’t realize they are crossing until it is too late.

I’m willing to bet that most people reading this who grew up in the average American town have their own tragic anecdotes, stories of young people who, after having too much to drink, got behind the wheel of a car, wrecked the automobile and lost their lives.

What’s so disheartening about these stories is that no drunk driver gets into the car believing that he or she will take a life or lose his or her own. And as easy as it is to vilify them, I don’t blame any of them for getting behind the wheel, even those who are currently serving time for manslaughter, because they learned their lesson the hard way.

The problem with the crusade against drunk driving is that it has fallen into the category of every other lesson drilled into our heads as teenagers that we now refuse to take seriously. Drinking a beer, in fact, won’t make you an alcoholic, smoking marijuana won’t make you stupid and having sex won’t necessarily end up with the birth of a child nine months later.

Preaching against the evils of drunk driving does little good because people know, despite what the police suggest, you can get away with it. In fact, the average drunk driver drives intoxicated approximately 80 times before his or her arrest. And if you are caught, well at worst it will result in a night in jail and a manageable fine. In 2013, however, over ten thousand cases of drunk driving resulted in death.

As much as your parents might punish you for drinking, as mad as your friend might get at you for not giving him his keys, as much as it sucks to be the designated driver and as terrible as it feels to blow $30 on a cab – all of these pale in comparison to loss of life.

The next time you get behind the wheel intoxicated or in the passenger seat with your drunk friend because “you’re fine,” or because you’ll just get a DUI, or because it’s only down the street, remember that you are responsible for someone’s life: your own, your passengers, and your fellow motorists and pedestrians. Although you may drink and drive and never lose, every day somebody out there does. Every day, somebody out there with his whole life ahead of him has it stripped away, and others are condemned to live the rest of theirs in torment, knowing that they either directly or indirectly contributed to the death of their friend.

Drunk driving is a serious problem, and it won’t be stopped no matter how many times people are told of its potential consequences. Police can make sobriety checkpoints and MADD can post heartbreaking statistics, but neither of those measures will fix the real problem – the aura of invincibility that surrounds youth.

It’s not that we don’t know it could happen; it’s that those types of things never happen to us, but every person who is now just a wooden cross on the side of the highway thought the same thing.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    Joe Gillard, Jr.Jan 22, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    Great article speaking to an epidemic. Many have been there, done that and have lived to wear the t shirt. Which gives credibility to them their poor decision. They made it home safely and they paid no consequences. It only takes one time though.
    We as a society need to not look the other way. We need to be vocal to teach the young before they enter the teen years. We as a society need to take a stand and eliminate the sale of single beers at the local gas stations or convenience stores. They are not the reason that people drive drunk and they are not the reason for drunk driving tragic accidents. They do however facilitate the beer for the ride home. Drink it quick and cast the empty out the car window along with one’s smart reasoning. Let’s not look the other way. On your next entrance or exit to a highway take a look at the empties that litter the grassy areas. I’m sure every can you see is representative of another driver who made a poor decision. I just hope he or she made it home safe.