Test everyone suspected of drunk drivingI have read the...

the FORUM

April 11, 1994

Test everyone suspected of drunk driving

I have read the articles (April 2, April 6) detailing the actions in the General Assembly closing the "loophole" that has allowed Maryland motorists suspected of driving while intoxicated to avoid taking a blood alcohol test.

The new version of the law would make the test mandatory for the driver suspected of driving while intoxicated in cases where a "life threatening injury" is the result of the accident. To me this seems to say that an intoxicated driver who did not become involved in an accident has acted more responsibly than the intoxicated driver who became involved in a "life threatening accident."

The factors determining whether a person "driving while

intoxicated" became involved in a "life threatening injury" accident are not within the control of the intoxicated driver.

People who work in the field of substance abuse suggest that every seventh driver on the highway from early Friday evening through about 4 a.m. Sunday is at least "impaired" as a result of drinking alcoholic beverages.

If there is any validity to this claim, it would seem to indicate that the number of intoxicated drivers on the road, especially on weekends, is far greater than the number who become involved in "life threatening" accidents. However, these impaired drivers are risks to themselves each time they drive in that condition.

One article quotes Del. Joel Chasnoff, a Montgomery County Democrat, saying, "If we err, we err in favor of the victim." To my mind there is only one reason for drivers suspected of having drunk alcohol to refuse a blood test. That reason is to prevent anyone from finding out their level of intoxication at that point.

The victims in cases of driving while impaired as the result of intoxication are many, including not only victims of an accident, their families and friends, but also the impaired driver, his family, friends and the rest of us.

The potential victims of a driver who is chemically impaired is everyone he passes while impaired.

It seems to me that if a person is stopped for driving while impaired, by any chemical, he should be made aware of his level of impairment for his own good as much as for that of the community.

In my position as a substance abuse counselor in the Maryland Division of Correction, I have become all too aware of how difficult it is to persuade persons who have problems as the result of any type of addiction to begin to look at their problems honestly, let alone begin to seek a path to recovery.

Allowing an intoxicated driver not involved in a "life threatening accident" to avoid being confronted with her level of impairment allows the driver to deny the seriousness of this behavior and may postpone indefinitely the point where she might begin to look at her lifestyle.

To put the use of alcohol and other "mind-altering" chemicals in a broader perspective, I would point out that we as a society go to great lengths to justify "social" drinking, and many users of other mind-altering chemicals defend their "use," legal or not, as "recreational."

To me, this is to misuse the words "social" and "recreational." To me, being "social" means people going about daily activities in a way that allows them to meet their needs without interfering with the rights of everyone else to do the same.

It would seem to follow that even in their "recreation" people have to act in a "socially acceptable" manner.

Intake of alcohol or any substance to a level that impairs a person's judgment as to whether his actions are "socially acceptable" could then be defined as unacceptable or "anti-social."

Driving while impaired by any chemical seems to fit a definition of "socially unacceptable behavior." If a person is suspected of driving while impaired or intoxicated, and we allow that person to avoid determination of the level of intoxication, then I feel it is unlikely that the person will recognize the seriousness of this behavior.

Limiting the determination of a person's blood alcohol level as mandatory until that person is involved in an accident that causes "life-threatening injury" is to deny the seriousness of "lesser" incidents of driving while intoxicated, or under the influence of alcohol.

The new law is a very small step in the right direction, but it falls far short of truly beginning to address the enormous problems that drivers impaired by any substance visit upon us.

John A. Larkin

Glen Burnie

Smoke-free keno

Maryland's contemplated paternalistic move of banning smoking in all work places, including bars and restaurants, sounds more than a little ironic coming from the same state government that instituted keno, a statewide gambling game, in those same bars and restaurants to raise revenue for a shortfall that has been planned into the state budget.

Katie Riback

Baltimore

ADD children

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