Lessons from a Tragedy in Harwood

February 24, 1994

The numbers show people have learned much about the perils of drinking and driving. This week's headlines show some people still have much to learn.

A terrible automobile accident in southern Anne Arundel County last weekend was traced to a back seat full of empty beer cans. Three of the four people who died were riding in the car that police said smelled of beer, where people "definitely were drinking" and where a task as basic as turning on the headlights had been forgotten. The fourth motorist killed, a woman on her way home to Calvert County after a family party, was a true innocent -- one of those unfortunate souls who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong moment. There is no one from whom to exact retribution. The driver of the car with the beer cans -- everyone in that car -- is dead.

So much has been said and written about drinking, driving and death that it seems almost too trite to repeat. But when four people in their prime are snuffed out because someone apparently was too stupid to heed the warnings, there is no choice.

Alcohol and automobiles are a fatal combination. Beware of thinking that what happened late last Saturday night in Harwood cannot happen to you because you can "handle" liquor, or because you are a good driver; the woman who was driving the station wagon had a clean driving record.

Beware of thinking that only inexperienced youths are incapable of knowing their limits; all of last weekend's dead were in their 30s and 40s. Think about the risks to other people. Be conscious of the value of your own life. Think about never seeing your husband, wife or children again and you will think twice about calling a cab or waiting a few hours to start home. Obey Maryland's seat belt law; none of the four people killed was wearing one.

People are driving more safely these days. Tougher law enforcement -- Maryland has some of the strictest drunken driving laws in the country -- and awareness campaigns are making a difference, especially among teen-agers. From 1990 to 1992, alcohol-related traffic deaths nationwide fell by 20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. But alcohol continues to be the chief cause of traffic deaths. If that statistic is not enough to make us more mindful of the dangers, the memory of last week's disaster should be.

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