The Deadly & Devastating Effects Of Drunk Driving: A Casualty Of America’s (Society’s) Broken Justice System…Commentary By Adina Kutnicki

There are very few topics which veer this blog off its regular course.  Geo-politics, primarily in relation to pressing Zionist and Conservative concerns, rules. Like a dog with a bone. However, as some readers well know, the subject of alcoholism/substance abuse is one such exception, duly addressed when necessary. Its deadly impact warrants an occasional departure from regular fare. Absolutely.

That being said, a maiden attempt was made to tackle the above scourge, evidenced in an op-ed published by the Jewish Press, Alcoholism:The Wreckage In Its Wake’ – It was piggybacked, in quick succession, with ‘Teenage Murders Shock Israel, Many Seek Answers’, and some of the inherent answers are indeed shocking, as they lead straight back to parental substance abuse !  – .

Treading along the scale of heartbreak, ‘The Underbelly Of Substance Abuse, Crossing All Societal Lines’ lays bare a breathtaking trail of carnage, as a so called “average” mom wrecked havoc on one of New York’s busiest thruway’s –…exposing Vodka Mom’s along her devastating route. Who are these vile creatures?

All is not lost. It is not as if basic lessons can’t be learned, and those most in need (sober family members top the list) have a familial and societal obligation to become educated about the essence of its stranglehold, as well as its attendant tentacle-like effects. Hopefully, the lessons learned occur before the affliction chokes the life out of everyone around them, let alone kills the addict –

Even though absorbing medical facts is more than life-saving reading, it also behooves society to understand how the justice system basically treats drunk drivers – an outgrowth of alcoholism/substance abuse – as opposed to those who are arrested due to assault with a deadly weapon – 

And it is this differential which leads smack into today’s commentary, thus, proving why the above education is more than an exercise in venting. Tragically, recent events bear testimony to the efficacy of all of the above, though gleaned mainly through what has become a revolving door for drunk drivers – turn style-like – as they (literally) stumble through America’s halls of “justice”, and other court systems too.

Consider the latest wreckage wrought by a drunk driver, as a young couple, along with their unborn child, paid the ultimate price, even though their killer was recently arrested for a DUI!  –

But it is not as if legal professionals (and their surrogates) are lacking in supportive evidence, to calculate the (probable) rate of recidivism for DUI/DWI offenders. Reams of studies are accessible, but only if one is performing their due diligence. On the other side of the legal spectrum, is the all too familiar lackadaisical, callous response – “case dismissed”.

As a public service, and just for starters, the following is one such example, out of volumes of qualified research: 

‘Risk of Alcohol-Impaired Driving Recidivism Among First Offenders and Multiple Offenders‘ – 

Objectives. We sought to determine the statewide impact of having prior alcohol-impaired driving violations of any type on the rate of first occurrence or recidivism among drivers with 0, 1, 2, or 3 or more prior violations in Maryland.

Methods. We analyzed more than 100 million driver records from 1973 to 2004 and classified all Maryland drivers into 4 groups: those with 0, 1, 2, or 3 or more prior violations. The violation rates for approximately 21 million drivers in these 4 groups were compared for the study period 1999 to 2004.

Results. On average, there were 3.4, 24.3, 35.9, and 50.8 violations per 1000 drivers a year among those with 0, 1, 2, or 3 or more priors, respectively. The relative risks for men compared with women among these groups of drivers were 3.8, 1.2, 1.0, and 1.0, respectively.

Conclusions. The recidivism rate among first offenders more closely resembles that of second offenders than of nonoffenders. Men and women are at equal risk of recidivating once they have had a first violation documented. Any alcohol-impaired driving violation, not just convictions, is a marker for future recidivism.

Efforts at reducing the consequences of drinking and driving have met with some success over the last 2 decades. However, in spite of tougher laws, increased enforcement, and greater public awareness, the presence of persistent drinking drivers on US roadways continues to be a major public health problem. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have per se laws, which make it a criminal offense to drive with a blood alcohol concentration at or greater than 0.08%.1 A conviction for alcohol-impaired driving traditionally results in a license suspension or revocation as well as other sanctions ordered by the judiciary. Because states consider driving a privilege and not a right, as a condition of licensure, a person is presumed to consent to chemical testing upon arrest for alcohol-impaired driving.2 In addition to criminal proceedings, in 41 states (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia, a driver is subject to administrative license suspension (administrative per se; APS) for failing or refusing the chemical test.3 APS laws allow enforcement, acting in an administrative capacity at arrest, to immediately suspend or revoke the license of a driver independent of criminal proceedings. As a deterrent, APS laws enhance the certainty, celerity, and severity of sanctions for alcohol-impaired driving, something not always obtainable by the criminal justice system.4 Criminal prosecution for the violation follows APS; however, sanctioning drivers under both mechanisms is not considered double jeopardy under constitutional law.

Following a criminal conviction, at least 22 states have diversion programs that allow convicted drinking drivers to ultimately escape criminal sanctions by entering alcohol education, alcohol treatment, or other programs that permit judgment or prosecution to be deferred.5

Diversion programs generally lead to dismissal of a conviction after successful completion of the program by the offender and can prevent or delay the offense from appearing on an offender’s public driving record. For example, in Maryland, a conviction leading to a diversion program (i.e., probation before judgment) is documented in a segregated (i.e., isolated) record that is not available to the public or insurance companies as part of the person’s driver record.

Alcohol-impaired driving legislation and sanctions have historically targeted offenders with multiple convictions. Less attention has been paid to so-called first offenders (those with no prior history of an alcohol-impaired driving conviction on their public driving record), and this limited focus has been on those actually convicted for driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). APS penalties mandated under per se regulations for failing the breath alcohol test (APS failure) or refusing the breath alcohol test (APS refusal) and probation before judgment are often excluded from alcohol-impaired driving statistics. This narrow focus only on convictions thus underestimates the prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving.

It is a widely held belief among the legislative and judicial branches of state government that most first offenders criminally convicted of an alcohol-related traffic offense are overindulging “social drinkers” who may have had only a single isolated drinking and driving episode that resulted in arrest. This belief often translates into lighter sanctions for first offenders.6 For example, drivers who are perceived to be first offenders are more often granted probation,7,8 are less likely to receive jail sentences,7 and are more likely to receive education9 for a conviction than are multiple offenders. Moreover, the general perception of the first-time offender is someone who is not a problem drinker, is generally law abiding, can be reasoned with, and only needs education.6 These assumptions may help to explain the lighter sanctions afforded first offenders. However, they appear to be inconsistent with published estimates that a person can drive while impaired by alcohol 200 to 2000 times before being arrested once1015 and empirical evidence suggesting that many so-called first-time alcohol-impaired drivers are problem drinkers16 and are unlikely to be reformed through educational interventions.6

In a literature review sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Jones and Lacey17 concluded that first and multiple DWI offenders share many similar characteristics and that a number of studies could not distinguish the characteristics of first from multiple offenders.7,16,1822

Despite empirical evidence that the first documented alcohol-impaired driving conviction on a public driving record is often not the first occurrence,23 offenders who are convicted for the first time are commonly afforded light sanctions. Some arrested or convicted drivers manage to have their driver records completely expunged, and many state motor vehicle administration offices routinely purge driving records after a set number of years.24 In some states, including Maryland, evidence that a driver received a conviction and diversion program is held as a segregated or sealed record and may be excluded from the driver record upon successful completion of program requirements. Moreover, some DUI offenders receive administrative sanctions but are not convicted criminally, and others may have their charges reduced to a lesser or nonalcohol-related offense through plea bargaining. Given these factors, combined with the low probability of arrest, it is reasonable to assume that the typical so-called first-time offender will have had an extensive history of alcohol-impaired driving by the time an offense is documented in the state’s department of motor vehicles or criminal record systems.25

In addition to the lighter judicial and legislative sanctions afforded those offenders apprehended for a “first” offense, a closer look at recidivism rates of DUI offenders with nominally 1, 2, or even 3 or more documented arrests is warranted because, in reality, such drivers may in fact have regularly engaged in drinking and driving without developing a documented conviction record, as a consequence of at least 6 factors: (1) having a low probability of arrest, (2) states’ practice of expunging or purging driver records, (3) plea bargaining to lesser offenses, (4) offenders receiving administrative sanctions but not criminal convictions, (5) states’ using segregated driver records, and (6) excluding alcohol-related violations from official records among diversion-program participants. Thus, criminal and administrative records commonly used to evaluate risk for recidivism underrepresent the actual violations among the drinking and driving population.

We sought to compare the risks of committing a new alcohol-impaired traffic offense (of any type) among drivers with 0, 1, 2, or 3 or more prior violations. Specifically, we were interested in determining whether the risk (rate) of new offenses among drivers who had a single prior violation was closer to the risk for multiple offenders or to drivers with no prior alcohol-related offenses……..” read the entire study for its full value.

No one should be arrogant enough to think that drunk driving won’t enter their personal sphere. It can. In fact, “there but for the grace of G-d go I” should be everyone’s reaction, whenever they read horrific news, not unlike the obliteration of the young family from Brooklyn, NY.

A double crime was committed; by the drunk driver who should receive no mercy, as well as by the judge who let him loose, after his recent drunk driving arrest. This judge is guilty of grave malfeasance, rendering a slap on the wrist to a recidivist drunk driver. He must be sanctioned and dismissed from the bench. If he couldn’t discern that  a tonnage of metal can kill, then surely he is unfit to mete out anything resembling proper punishment.

Justice demands as much. Even more.

Alcoholism:The Wreckage In Its Wake…By Adina Kutnicki

Originally published in The Jewish Press
By:Adina Kutnicki
December 18th, 2011
Daily newspapers in Israel have recently included an uptick in drunk driving related articles, invariably detailing the horrific carnage left in their wake. Various editorials have attempted to tackle the devastating effects of drunk driving, albeit leaving out its most basic element-the disease of alcoholism, the precursor to drunk driving.

In fact, as recently as October 16, 2011, the Jerusalem Post penned a blaring editorial, Halting drunk driving? The impetus for this particular article was the culmination of several shocking deaths caused by hit and run drivers, where the underlying subtext involved alcohol and drug abuse.

Most notably the high profile death of the son of retired deputy president of the Supreme Court, Justice Cheshin, was caused by a drunk driver in June 2010. The equally horrendous death of Tel Aviv resident, 25 year old Lee Zeitouni, in September of 2011, more than likely involved substance abuse. Tragically, there are far too many cases to enumerate – all around the world – however, most have one common thread-the link of alcohol or drugs, or the toxic mix of both.

While it is essential to be exposed to such articles, most of them unfortunately miss their intrinsic target. Approaching the issue from the back-end, by attempting to halt drunk driving through a system like “Good Fellas” (where a chauffeur is called and drives the impaired driver home in their own car) or “Designated Driver” (where one person in the group does not drink) should be viewed as a quick fix and a band-aid approach. As for the various alert systems which can now be installed in cars, they too are adjunct “therapies” to a very lethal societal problem. What they all have in common is that they not only miss the mark, but in a very real sense whistle past the graveyard.

As is most always the case, it takes mangled body parts to garner the reader’s attention. In this regard, it is imperative for people, wherever they reside, whatever their background, to grasp the basic dynamics of the disease of alcoholism.

In its essence, the wreckage laid bare on all our roads, due to this insidious disease, is basically a final stop (hopefully) for the alcoholic, a point in which their disease can no longer be ignored, nor hidden behind closed (family) doors. In light of the above, it is incumbent upon members of our communities to ask the salient questions. First and foremost, what are the loved ones of the alcoholic doing, or not doing, in relation to the addict in their midst? Do they believe someone just wakes up one morning, decides to play Russian roulette with a tonnage of metal, throwing caution to the wind, thereby, driving under the influence? Hardly. These are the absolute actions of an alcoholic or drug abuser.

Unless one is an island onto oneself, most alcoholics have families. They may have spouses, siblings, children and extended family. Most significantly, to make any headway in halting drunk driving, the concept of co-dependency/enabling (a topic which is for the most part unexplored, especially by those most in need) must be better understood.

At its core, according to Petros Levounis, MD, MA, Director, The Addiction Institute of New York and chief of Addiction Psychiatry of St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals in NYC, there are several main components to enabling. They include:

· Covering up – providing alibis, making excuses, or taking over someone’s responsibilities, rationalizing or minimizing the addiction.

· Controlling – trying to take responsibility for the person’s addiction by throwing out the alcohol or drugs or cutting off the supply.

· Removing consequences – bailing the person out of jail or giving him or her money.

Specifically within many traditional Jewish circles, the stigma attached to addiction (whether alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling) often serves as the excuse needed to cover up the addiction, by both the addict and their enablers. The perceived shame in asking for help often outweighs the devastating effects caused by the addiction – a truly circular pattern, a dance/marriage of sorts between the addict and their enablers.

It is this “shame-based” behavior which fosters a double crisis. So much effort is expended on covering up the addiction, it leaves precious energy, time and finances to address the dependency, thus freeing the addict of their addiction, allowing their family to become whole again.

The cycle of co-dependency must be broken in order to beat back this ever-increasing scourge within our communities. The wreckage left in its wake is not only found in the twisted metal on our roads and the bloodied bodies, whether maimed or killed. It is in the devastation left behind – the widows/widowers, the orphans, the siblings, the parents, plus all their shattered hopes and dreams.

No one should be foolish enough to expect the addict to gauge when they have caused too much suffering to themselves or their loved ones. They are in no condition to do so. Therefore, it is morally incumbent upon their sober loved ones to lead the charge, finally breaking the chains of co-dependency. They must state convincingly, clearly and lovingly – ENOUGH! Either the alcohol or the family. It can no longer be both.