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The difference between inattentive driving and driving drunk

Everyone agrees drunk driving is bad. Alcohols ability to deaden our reaction time and slow our cognitive powers is a poor mix with a couple of thousand pounds of metal moving at dozens of feet per second. If someone drinks and drives, it is virtually certain that they will have an "accident" with car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian.

It has not always like that. For decades, drunk driving was viewed as being akin to wallpaper in a room, something that was "always" there. Drunk drivers were often excused because, after all, they were drunk. They could not have known what they were doing because they were intoxicated. They were car accidents, because they lack intention to cause harm.

Eventually, with the efforts of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, laws were passed that no longer excused such behavior. The success of this campaign, which is far from 100 percent, is still one of the factors why highway fatalities have declined so abruptly in the last ten years.

A writer who lost a nephew in a pedestrian accident in New York City points out that perhaps we need the same change in perspective that occurred with respect to drunk driving to occur with regard to careless and reckless driving.

A driver carelessly turning a corner killed his nephew. He failed to see the boy and his father as they entered a crosswalk and the collision killed the boy. Police informed the family that drugs and alcohol were not involved, as if that made the boy any less dead.

He suggests that we need to recognize the destruction caused by inattentive, distracted or reckless driving, whether resulting from fatigue, carelessness or cellphone use is no less than that caused by drunk driving. The focus should be on the damage done, and less how it was done.

Source: New York Times, "Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving," Barron H Lerner, January 24, 2014

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