drunk driving

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is an organization dedicated to stopping drunk driving, supporting the victims of this violent crime and preventing underage drinking.

Watching his 5-year-old son play basketball was what Jeremy Scott McGuire most looked forward to when returning home from a business trip in Miami.

“He was like the manliest guy, but he was also like Mr. Mom,” said Kelley Dair, McGuire’s twin sister.

McGuire was 41 at the time, and his family called him Scott. He was a Homeland Security special agent living in New Orleans with his wife and son. He worked undercover out of the local office.

In January 2016, McGuire and his boss traveled to Miami for three to four days to work on a special case, and they were constantly going from meeting to meeting. Before leaving for his trip, McGuire made sure to prepare meals for his family and to lay out his son’s clothes for the days he would be gone.

“He loved his family,” Dair said. “His son was his life.”

One night at South Beach, after a dinner meeting, McGuire and his boss were hailing a cab when a 21-year-old woman plowed into them and fled the scene, leaving behind only the side view mirror from her car.

Scott never got the chance to watch his son play basketball because she did not see that the two-lane road merged into one.

In 2016, alcohol-impaired-driving incidents accounted for about 10,497 deaths in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, because DWI laws are written by each individual state, the number of incidents in each one varies. In 2017, Arizona was ranked first for having the strictest laws in the country, whereas Ohio was ranked 49th. Arizona had 2,912 alcohol related deaths between 2003 and 2012, and Ohio had 3,637.

Senior Trooper Bryan Lee with Louisiana State Police said that they have seen a gradual decline in alcohol related fatalities, but they are still occurring at an alarming rate.

According to the Louisiana Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) Crash Dashboard, there were 306 alcohol-related crashes resulting in 333 deaths in 2016. That number decreased in 2017 by about 6.9 percent. However, the number of deaths was still high, totaling 309.

Lee said the main factor in alcohol-related fatalities is the lack of responsibility by those that choose to drink and drive.

“This is an issue that is 100 percent preventable,” said Mothers Against Drunk Driving Louisiana Program Director Valerie Cox. “We are not looking for a cure because the cure is already here.”

Cox said that MADD does not care that people go out and drink. She said MADD only cares that people get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking.

MADD’s mission is to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support victims of these crimes and prevent underage drinking, according to the MADD website. Dair is one of 840,000 victims that MADD has served since their founding in 1980, and deaths from drunk driving have reduced by 50 percent. MADD’s job is not done until there are no deaths.

“One loss to drunk driving or impaired driving is one life too many,” Cox said.

In 2007, Paula Zachary from Amite, Louisiana, lost her son, Brandon Zachary, in a drunk driving accident. Brandon was 19 years old and had just finished his first year at Southeastern Louisiana University. After getting off of work, he called his mom and told her he was going out with some friends in Hammond and would not be coming home.

Paula said her “mother’s intuition” kicked in, and she told Brandon to come home, but he said he would be fine.

Brandon decided to go visit an ex-roommate in Zachary after going out with his friends; however, he never made it. After falling asleep at the wheel, he hit a culvert and then a utility pole, and the pole crashed on top of his car. Responders found him with a faint pulse, but Brandon bled to death on the way to the hospital. His blood alcohol content was .19.

“He will forever be 19 to me,” Paula said.

This past March, Brandon would have been 30 years old. Paula is now a volunteer with MADD and tries to bring awareness as much as she can and to as many places she can because, she said, it’s not always the other guy.

Paula said if people decide to drink, they should make a plan before. She also said for every decision made, there is a consequence, and that decision is up to each individual person.

MADD argues that raising awareness is one of the most critical ways to reduce drinking and driving. They offer several programs to help victims, educate the public and spread awareness. These include victim panels, court monitoring, classes and handbooks for parents and public service announcements.

The main objective of a PSA is to raise awareness, or to change public attitudes towards a social issue. However, according to an article written by Catherine E. Goodall and Michael D. Slater in the Communication Research Journal, a study suggests that PSAs have failed to resonate with young adults, whereas alcohol advertisements resonate highly with young adults.

Recently, some students at four different high schools in Ascension Parish, put out their own PSA about the risks of drinking and driving around prom season in the hopes to raise awareness and relate to a younger audience. MADD strongly supported the PSA.

The PSA campaign aimed to remind students to make smart decisions, and that one bad decision could ruin their future.

“Kids are going to relate to other kids promoting it more than they would seeing us on TV talking about it,” Cox said.

In all 50 states, the blood alcohol concentration limit for people 21 years old and over is .08. Louisiana also has a zero tolerance law that makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drive with a BAC of at least .02.

DWI Task Force Sgt. Arthur Munoz, of the Baton Rouge Police Department, said he has arrested people as young as 15 and as old as 82 for DWIs. He said he does not believe people think they will get caught, and they do not put enough thought into their actions.

“It’s the attitude,” Munoz said. “I don’t think they think about the consequences.”

Munoz had a nephew visit him from California who had received a DWI about a year earlier. He said his nephew believed that he drove better after drinking because he concentrated more on his driving. Two months later, he said his nephew received another DWI.

“So much for that theory,” Munoz said.

DWI checkpoints, or sobriety checkpoints, are one of the most effective preventative measures, Munoz said, because they put fear into peoples’ heads. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a study found that checkpoints reduced alcohol-related fatal, injury and property damage crashes each by about 20 percent.

Some people have claimed that the checkpoints infringe on their civil rights, and this idea was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately left it up to each state to determine. Louisiana is one of the states that allow these checkpoints to take place.

“It’s a public highway governed by the state,” Munoz said, “so it’s not against your civil rights.”

Munoz said he thinks Louisiana’s DWI laws are too relaxed, and he has compared Louisiana’s laws to other states — mainly California, where he is from. He said in California, first time offenders will receive community service on weekends for up to a year, whereas in Louisiana, its only 32 hours of community service for first offenders.

According to MADD, in 2016 Louisiana scored a 2.5 out of 5 for its drinking and driving laws. Its national ranking was 32 with 30 percent of total traffic fatalities caused by drunk driving. Mississippi ranked first for its laws and scored a 4.5 with MADD. Only 19 percent of its traffic fatalities were from drunk driving.

Munoz said it is ludicrous how 18- to 20-year-olds are allowed to go into a bar when they are not old enough to legally drink. He also said just because it is legal for an underage person to drink with their parent or guardian at home, it does not make it right.

“I think it’s responsibility,” Munoz said. “Some people are responsible, some are not.”

Cox said she thinks the laws are great, but sometimes they are not enforced. For example, the interlock ignition laws — that MADD is currently trying to strengthen — allow a judge to make an offender install this device into their vehicle, but it is not mandatory.

An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer installed in a DWI offender’s vehicle that prevents them from starting their vehicle if their BAC is over the legal limit. According to MADD, Louisiana’s laws could improve if ignition interlocks were available to first time offenders upon arrest.

MADD is currently working on a law where if someone is arrested for DWI and wants a hardship license, even before going to court, they have to get the ignition interlock device installed in their vehicle. Cox said this law is going to make a difference.

“It needs to be known that there will be consequences,” she said. “We are trying to save lives and that life could be yours, your loved one’s or a friend’s.”

Something that might contribute to Louisiana’s high rate is the state’s drive-thru daiquiri shops. Although drinking and driving is illegal across the country, Louisiana allows people to conveniently purchase daiquiris without leaving their vehicle.

“Totally, totally ridiculous,” Cox said.

The open container law in Louisiana prohibits the driver of a vehicle and the passengers from having an open container of an alcoholic beverage while operating the vehicle on a public highway or right of way. The drink must have a closed lid and no straw.

Cox and Munoz both said they wonder how many people actually wait until they get to their destination to drink their daiquiris.

Munoz said it is very difficult to monitor the open container law because as police officers, they do not have a right to stop someone they see drinking from a plastic foam cup because it might be a Diet Coke.

Attorney Julie Baxter Payer, said that legislatures have heard from several people directly impacted by impaired driving, but have also heard from several people and businesses that sell alcohol.

Payer said there needs to be a balance between an individual’s interest to be able to control their own personal life and society’s interest of not wanting people needlessly being harmed.

On April 8 a man and woman were killed in a crash after being hit by a driver who ran a red light in Baton Rouge. Gatveyea and Jonathan Williams were driving in the early morning when the accident happened and Munoz said he assumes they were on a date.

The couple was driving northbound on Sherwood Forest and they had a green light, but the drunk driver going eastbound failed to stop at the red light. He had a BAC of .19 at the time of the crash and he survived. The Williams’ leave behind two young children.

“I don’t believe people consider all of those things before they get behind the wheel,” Munoz said.

As Lee, Cox and Munoz said, it all comes down to responsibility. Cox said people should make sure they have a plan in place before taking that first sip, whether it is an Uber, a taxi or a designated driver.

“It can happen to anybody,” Paula said. She also said she doesn’t want to see what happened to her son happen to anyone else.

Scott McGuire was in a coma for eight or nine days after the incident, which Dair said was somewhat of a blessing because they were able to see him alive. However, she did not want to get her hopes up like the rest of her family, just to be let down.

Dair said there was evidence that the woman and her friends discussed getting an Uber, but decided against it.

“$20 could have saved my brother’s life,” she said.

Both Dair and Paula volunteer with MADD in memory of their loved ones and share their stories to help reduce the number of fatalities caused by drunk driving. Although the number is declining, MADD says the job is not done until there are zero deaths from this preventable epidemic.

“He may not be here, but he’s here,” Paula said as she pointed to her heart.

Dair said people should imagine the person they love most in life no longer being around before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle impaired.

“The cure is already here and it is within each of us,” Cox said. “Be responsible.”

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