Sunday #3: January 15, 2012 – Why do people drive drunk?

Originally I had a different post all ready to go today, but at the last minute I changed my mind. Something happened in my neighbourhood this morning that made me want to write about it. 

Although I didn’t hear the noise, or the ambulance or police sirens, I later learned that around seven o’clock this morning, a young man in his late twenties was killed when he crashed his car into a light pole between the main street (142 Street) and the alley behind my street (141 Street). My neighbour Terry heard the car speeding northbound on 142 Street and soon after heard the crash as the car smashed into the light pole before the intersection at 118 Avenue. Regrettably for the driver, the point of impact between the pole and the car was exactly where he was sitting in his seat and, according to news reports, the pole was pushed about two feet into the car’s interior. Terry approached the vehicle and called 911. EMS arrived swiftly, worked to remove the man from the vehicle and rushed him to hospital.  Tragically, the man was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Police have not yet released the identity of the man, pending notification of next of kin, but they have said that both alcohol and speed were factors in the crash. Learning that, all I could do was shake my head at the senselessness of this man’s death. The only glimmers of relief are that he did not have anyone else in the car with him and that he hit a pole and not a pedestrian or another vehicle. Those two factors will at least save others families and loved ones from having to face a life without someone they care deeply about.

I have long wondered why people continue to drink and drive. It has never made sense to me why so many people continue to participate in this behaviour when the risks are well-known and well-publicized. I have long wondered what goes through the mind of someone who is about to take the keys and start the ignition when they have been drinking. I know that excess alcohol impairs not only driving ability but also judgement, but I wonder what exactly someone says to himself or herself at the moment the decision whether to drive is being made. I have long been a proponent of swifter, tougher sentences for impaired driving, especially for repeat offenders. This incident, so close to my home, has made me think about it on a more emotional level than a mental one. I wonder whether the young man who lost his life knew the crash happened, whether he knew he was going to die. I wonder whether he had the time and the awareness to feel regret in those final seconds. It makes me incredibly sad to think about that.

It makes me even sadder to think about those people who will receive (or have already received) phone calls today to tell them a loved one is dead. I wonder how they will feel when they learn the cause of the crash and how they will face tomorrow and the next day and the next knowing what happened and having to live without their loved one. The saddest part to me is that this death could have been avoided, that it was so senselessly unnecessary. The great tragedy is that one split-second decision, had it gone the other way, would have saved this man’s life. I hope that someone who lives in my neighbourhood who might normally have chosen to drink and drive—or who has done so before—will remember hearing or seeing what happened today and decide against putting the key in the ignition and driving impaired in the future. That can be the only upside of this disaster. And, of course, it will be no comfort to this man’s friends and family, to whom my thoughts and prayers go out on this terrible day for them.

The news story that appeared in The Edmonton Journal this morning, several hours after the crash, can be found here.


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