Report says attitudes, not laws, are key to curbing drunk driving

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Solving America's drunk-driving problem will require more than new punishments. It will take a grass-roots effort to change long-held US attitudes toward the use, and abuse, of alcohol.

Yet the time is ripe for such action. In the past two years, public opposition to drunken driving has reached a dramatic new level of intensity.

These are the central conclusions of the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving's final report, which was released Monday.

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''Laws alone will not dramatically change the drunk-driving problem,'' says the report. ''The individual and society, as a whole, must be active partners in this effort if we are to see changes over the long haul that will be sustained by future generations.''

Specifically, the commission recommends encouraging the citizen advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which have sprung up around the country.

Editorial boards, clergy, medical schools, trade associations, labor unions, etc., should be involved in alcohol education campaigns, the report says.

These grass-roots organizations should be linked with state and local government task forces. (In recent months, 41 states have set up such task forces to study drunk driving.) A permanent, national board of public and private leaders could provide overall leadership.

''Drunk driving,'' emphasizes the report, ''must be recognized as socially unacceptable.''

The commission recommends, for instance, that newspapers publish the names of people arrested or convicted or both for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Other prevention activities, the commission says, could be focused on natural social settings. Take the standard office Christmas party, for example: It could be held early in the day, to give those who indulge enough time to sober up before going home. Drink tickets, instead of an open bar, could limit consumption.

Emphasizing public education and societal change to halt the drunk driver is not altogether new.

But the President's commission argues that the environment for action has never been better - that MADD, the commission itself, and other groups have already done much to make the public more aware of the problem.

In the past year, the report points out, 39 states have passed tougher drunk-driving laws. And more laws should be passed, recommends the commission, to back up grass-roots information efforts.

Specifically, the commission recommends that:

* Federal law make 21 the minimum age for purchasing alcoholic beverages. Nineteen states now have such a law; three raised their drinking ages during the last legislative session.

* Drunk drivers receive a mandatory sentence of 90 days' license suspension, plus 100 hours of community service or 2 days in jail, for their first offense.

For a second offense that occurs within five years, the mandatory sentence should be 10 days in jail, a loss of license for a year. A third violation should bring 120 days in jail and a three-year license loss.

* Plea bargaining in drunk-driving cases be eliminated.

* States pass ''dram shop'' laws, making it illegal for anyone to sell alcohol to someone who is ''visibly intoxicated.''

* All states should prohibit open alcohol containers in motor vehicles.

* States channel drunk-driving fines toward increased alcohol-abuse enforcement.

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