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Friday, 29 January 2016

The Influence

Last weekend in our county on Prince Edward Island, Canada, there were eight people in a population of 45,000, arrested and charged with impaired driving. A few weeks ago, a member of our family had a close call with an erratic driver whilst on the way to work. Drinking and driving is a serious problem in this province.



Several years ago, when we first moved to Summerside, I took a course in mystery writing. Our instructor covered the basics, then we explored the justice system in this province which included a trip to court to watch the proceedings for the morning.



It was plea day. Numerous people appeared in court to answer charges, many of whom had been in the jail downstairs overnight. There were many charges of impaired driving; most of the defendants were older men, many with a history of the same behaviour. There was one younger man with a first offense.

As I sat there, I was furious. With each new charge and person stood to face the judge, I became more angry. As time went on, it felt like my head would explode.

This anger arose from years ago when I was fifteen years old and one of my classmates was killed by an impaired driver. Her family was headed to Church on Saturday evening when a young man, leaving a club after an afternoon of drinking, hit their car. This was in the days prior to seat belt usage; she went through the windshield. She was a bright, capable young woman who did not have the chance to grow up.

Her parents were in hospital, so our class walked to the funeral home and sat vigil for her. In that room with the closed white casket, a glowing candle and the smell of dying flowers, we sat looking at that box, not believing that our classmate was there. I caught myself looking around to find her at one point, then realized she was gone forever. I did not understand what that experience had done to me until that day in court.

Fifteen year old Marie, in an older body, was sat in court that day, watching and listening. Before sentence was pronounced, lawyers, most often a legal aid lawyer, gave a history of the defendant. This information included the person's past offenses, the employment history and place of residence.

During that morning, it became obvious that the situations and tragedy were repeated from person to person. By the end of the session, I felt exhausted and needed time to process what had happened. The class went for coffee and speaking with the others, I realized the anger was gone, replaced with sadness for my friend and the people caught in the grip of alcohol, where a vehicle can become a weapon of self destruction and terror for others on the road.

Over the last few years, I have thought of those men, including the man who killed my friend. How has he lived with what he did that fateful day? Will my family or friends "meet" any of these impaired drivers on the road some day? What became of the young man who appeared for his first impaired driving offense? Has alcohol taken over his life as it had those older men? Is he one who will be appearing in court numerous times over the years? Will any of them be the cause of great tragedy for another family? Have they given the car keys to a designated driver, called a cab or walked home when needed?

My hope and wish is for each to find a life free of the influence. 

24 comments:

  1. There is certainly much more awareness about impaired driving now. Hard to swallow that there could be 8 arrests in one county in one weekend. No excuse anymore.

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    1. It is a sad commentary on what was acceptable as people drove on the farm roads regardless of how much they drank.

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  2. How sad! Many roads in Japan are very busy. Many drivers know that killing people by drunken drivers deserves death penalties.Our problem is that aging drivers are increasing, which causes car accidents.
    Have a good weekend!

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    1. An aging population will cause problems on the roads as well. Re-testing older drivers is crucial I think.

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  3. Perhaps in the future when we all have driverless cars, this scourge will end.

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    1. I look forward to those days, if I live to see it.

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  4. I was once one of those drunk drivers, and I am grateful every day that I hurt no one. I apologize for them all.

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    1. Mage, I am so happy that you got out from under the influence. It must have been so hard but you did it. You are a strong person!

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  5. I am amazed by 8 drivers in such a small area.
    Don't drink and drive...that's my motto.
    How sad that life needs to be numbed.

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    1. It is so sad and makes me feel helpless to do anything to help. When I taught in a high school, I mentored a Sudents Against Drunk Driving group in the school, to try to educate the students about the issue before they left school. I hope a few took the information and used it in their lives.

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  6. It is a crime that so many drinkers don't believe that they are deadly weapons when they get behind the wheel when drunk. For many it only becomes clear after they have killed or maimed someone.

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  7. I knew someone who thought he was a better driver after he'd been drinking. There was no convincing him otherwise. He thought he was more careful.

    I don't know how one lives with taking another life in such an accident. There have been several cases in Canada the last few months where multiple family members and a family of four were killed by impaired drivers, allegedly.

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  8. I have a friend who lost her husband to a drunk driver and she spent a year in the hospital. She will never ever be the same, although it's been more than ten years now. Very important post, Marie. It's because we get behind the wheel of a car so easily, and we forget that they are deadly weapons. :-(

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  9. it is such an important issue. There is such awareness about it now too. I don't know what the solution is. Maybe the driverless cars will be the answer but how long will it be before they are the only vehicles on the road?

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  10. Your prayer is my prayer, too, Marie.
    I am confident that something triggered each of these impaired drivers to turn to alcohol in the first place. I imagine that each one has a different reason or different story, but that is of little consequence to the family of the ones they have forever changed due to driving under the influence.
    I pray that each person who has a substance abuse (of any kind) will be able to turn from whatever it is that as him/her under its control. I do pray for each one of them...and for the dear families of those that have been forever impacted.
    Love to you,
    Jackie

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    1. Alcohol brings such tragedy into so many lives! It is a terrible master.

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  11. What a thought provoking post you have written. Every time I go out on the road, especially when it's dark, I am aware that there is a possibility of an impaired driver on the same road as me and I try to be extra vigilant. But of course it doesnt have to be dark. Just late last year in the middle of the afternoon a family was devastated by the loss of a grandfather and three small children, at the hands of an impaired young man driving too fast and not stopping at a stop sign in his too-powerful car.
    And regarding driverless cars.... I think I'd rather be in control.

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    1. It will be a hard transition to sit in a driverless car and give up total control. I can't see any other solution though. It doesn't work to put the lock on the cars and have the driver prove sobriety in order to drive. Some people have had others blow into the device for them so that they can continue their reign of terror on the roads. Unbelievable for sure but true. I'm sure they don't set out to hurt others but that doesn't help those maimed, killed or the families left behind.

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  12. A very intense post, Marie. I think all of us in one way or another have a sad memory or a close call, or at least know of someone who should not be on the road. I just spoke with my son (a police officer) the other day about what I could do about a friend's past partner whom I have learned drives not only while intoxicated, but consistently has an ongoing open bottle in the car. And he's a lawyer. Thankfully, someone else who does knows more details about him has reported it. All we can do is hope that he doesn't kill anyone until he is caught in the act.

    I'm sorry for your loss during your teen years, and I'm touched by where your thoughts have wandered since. Sometimes, it's a once in a lifetime bad choice.. and especially if done by someone young, I'd like to think that it's in us to forgive. A young (early 20s) relative's boyfriend drove last year while impaired and hit a tree or pole. He was okay and nobody else was involved. He is a good kid who made a really bad mistake. He lost his license for a year (maybe 18 months) and for the next number of months he has to blow into a device every 20 minutes while driving which makes long distance highway driving impossible. He was ashamed, and disgusted with himself, and anyone who knows him is certain that he will never ever take that chance again. He was one of the lucky ones. His inconvenience was a small price to pay in order to learn such an important lesson.

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  13. A device requiring a breath every twenty minutes has a better chance of success.

    It is good that young person was caught so early. It will be a valuable lesson for sure. He will be able to walk away from this without having injured anyone. He has my hope and wish for a bright future.

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  14. My dear friend lost her son, the light of her existence, to a drunk driver. The driver was his friend and driving the car my friend's son was in. He was expelled through the windsheild too. The car flipped end-over-end on top of him. He did not die instantly. Luckily there was a nurse in the car behind them who was able to comfort him in his last moments. He was only 18. The driver not only showed no remorse but bragged that the incident would not stop him from drinking and driving again. He was in his 20's. My friend finally decided to sue him to have his license revoked so he could not kill someone else. She was successful. But she has never really recovered from the loss of her son.

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    1. I don't think parents recover from losing their children. They learn to live a changed life because what choice do they have? I'm glad she sued him. I wonder if he ever really understood what he had to done? Such a sad reality which is far too common!

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  15. Since these actions have a repeated and expected action one would think the community would come together to find some way to prevent them from driving if they cannot be prevented from their alcoholism. it is a tragic illness and the innocent should not have to pay such a price.

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    1. There is a device which can be attached to a car which requires a breath before a car will start. It can be tricked by a non-drinker blowing into it for the drinker however. I cannot imagine someone would do that for a drinker though. Also there are license plates which indicate that someone is a convicted drunk driver so other drivers can monitor them. Nothing is working. People are reporting drunk drivers more than they ever did, but every year we still lose people to DUI accidents. Maybe the driverless cars will be the solution.

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