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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014

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In Living Commentary

No matter what your tolerance, you could be over the limit faster than you think.

Facing the facts about drunk driving


Wednesday morning news broke the story that a young Milwaukee woman rear-ended a squad car and injured a Dane County sheriff's deputy while driving under the influence. Stephanie Hallio is only 20 years old. She's not even old enough to buy alcohol and this is her second DUI.

She is also being cited for driving with a revoked license, not having insurance and not moving over for emergency vehicles (Which as we all know in Milwaukee, can have devastating consequences).

Thankfully, for all involved, the deputy was treated and released with only minor injuries, but one must only imagine for a moment how terribly this story could have ended.

I've written about alcohol and its connection to our inhibitions in relationships, but recently a close friend asked me why Wisconsinites continue to senselessly drive drunk when we know the end results could ruin or even end the lives of all involved.

This isn't a sexy topic, but a necessary one. Or is it? Do we drive drunk because we think it's sexy? Or that it's not sexy to call for help? Are we still that susceptible to the idea that living dangerously is sexy?

We live in a state that unfortunately is known for alcohol and drunkenness. UW-Madison is repeatedly at the top or close to the top of the unofficial "drunkest campuses" lists, which most college students think is an honorable position to hold.

We take a lot of pride in our brewing history in this state, as we should, but that shouldn't justify turning a blind eye to drunk driving and it should make us take a second look at our overall attitude towards binge drinking in this state. In 2008, Wisconsin was ranked first in binge drinking and last year, was ranked first in drunk driving. Think there's a connection there? Forbes.com ranks Milwaukee as the country's drunkest city.

When we've been drinking and made the ill choice to drive, our worst fear is being pulled over, arrested and charged with a DUI. At the time we're not thinking about "what if I hit a person and either seriously injure or even kill them?" If that thought did enter our drowning brains it would hopefully keep most of us from putting the key in the ignition. That's not a night in jail or the embarrassment of losing your license for a year or so, that's vehicular manslaughter and living for the rest of your life knowing you killed someone.

So why doesn't that thought cross our minds when we get behind the wheel intoxicated? Are we naïve enough to think it won't happen to us? Are we truly that careless or just too drunk to think clearly enough about our decisions?

Part of the problem, likely the biggest part, is that we think we're fine. And I say "we" because I am just as guilty of this as the next Milwaukeean. When you do the math, which no one can do when they're eight beers and three shots in, it's really clear. The liver can only handle so much alcohol in a one hour period, actually one (1) ounce of pure alcohol per hour. (However, WebMD information claims 'heavy drinkers' can metabolize up to three drinks in an hour.) And don't start thinking "I can do better, this doesn't apply to me." It applies!

I went to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website and used their Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) calculator to find out how much I can consume in a two hour period before I'm legally too intoxicated to drive. As predicted, three drinks (one drink is equivalent to a 12-ounce beer) in two hours and I was over the legal limit of 0.08.

Want to find out how much you can really have before you're in trouble? Try the calculator yourself.

(Scarier yet, I roughly calculated what I know I've been foolish enough to consume in the past and the results were at or near lethal levels. Typically levels above 0.4 are lethal for most people. Long time alcoholics can reach levels closer to 0.5. It was definitely an eye opener.)

Go to any Wisconsin sporting event, BBQ, summer festival or just the corner bar on a Friday night and the idea of sticking to one drink per hour is laughable. On the contrary, getting 'hammered' is the whole point. Drunkenness, not social drinking, has become a part of Wisconsin culture, a part we shouldn't embrace to the degree that we do.
Here are some alarming statistics from the Wisconsin DOT website:

  • Alcohol-related crashes killed 238 people in Wisconsin and injured nearly 4,000 in 2009.
  • Approximately, 45 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in Wisconsin in 2009 were alcohol-related.
  • Last year, 40 percent of all fatal motorcycle crashes in Wisconsin were alcohol-related.

In my experience, statistics don't really do justice to their cause. Pictures are worth a thousands words. If you need more proof that drunk driving ruins the lives of people of all ages across the country, visit madd.org for victim's stories. Go figure, drunk drivers rarely only kill themselves.

I, like so many, have made the mistake of thinking that either I was alright to drive when I wasn't or that it "wasn't worth it" to call a cab or a friend for a safe ride home. That's really difficult and horrifically embarrassing to put out there.

When we say, "it wasn't worth it" to find a safe way home, what we're really saying is, "I'd rather gamble with my life and the lives of those around me on the road or pedestrians than bother to call a cab." Say that out loud to yourself the next time you've had a few and need to get home. (Or type it on a card and attach it to your car keys, then try to read it aloud next time you're thinking about being this stupid.)

I never want to have to call my family from behind bars and ask them to find me a good lawyer because I was stupid enough to get behind the wheel and hit someone.

Clearly Miss Hallio needs professional help to change the path her life is currently on and I hope she gets that help. Anyone of us that loves our friends and loves our family should be upset about drunk driving. They could be the person in the other car.

Even if you've been guilty of driving under the influence in the past, even if it was last night, today can be the day that you agree never to risk your life or the lives of others because you were too lazy, too cheap or too stupid to call a cab or accept a ride home from a friend.

I'm well aware that there are dangerous behaviors in my life involving alcohol that I not only want, but need to change. It's not just the fact that drinking a ton makes me act like a jackass, could land me in jail, could mean I won't have a driver's license for a year or so, it's the fact that I don't want to wake up, ever, knowing that one very poor decision on my part ended a life, mine or anyone else's. If the potential devastation to yourself isn't enough to convince you that getting home alive or without incident is important, think of what losing you to prison or death would do to your loved ones.


Talkbacks

Victor Golf | Sept. 7, 2010 at 1:19 p.m. (report)

Yes, that's why people drive drunk, because they think it's sexy. And in some cases because it's not sexy to call for help. It dangerous yes, but as this blog shows us it's very important to view every single aspect of ones life through the prisim of "sexiness". At least until we grow up a little bit.

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alba | Sept. 6, 2010 at 8:16 p.m. (report)

Drunk driving laws need to catch up to technology. What if cars didnt have speedometers, yet drivers were forbidden from driving just .08 miles per hour above the speed limit? Drunk driving laws are very specific, yet drinkers have no way of knowing what their blood alcohol content is before getting into a car. How about free breathalyzer devices installed at all bars and restaurants?

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wauwatosa | Sept. 5, 2010 at 9:53 p.m. (report)

Thanks for the great post. It took me many many years to realize alot of what you talk about in this article. It was'nt until I read a blurb on JSOnline about a 60 yr. man who played some golf in the afternoon one dayafter work and attended the Cedarburg Wine & Harvest Fest afterwards. Needless to say this person had too much to drink, drove drunk, and killed a motorcyclist on Hwy. 60 on his way home. He was rightfully sentenced to 10 yrs. prison for his crime. When I applied this 10 yrs. to my own life I figured if I was in his shoes I wouldnt parent my grade school children until they were ready for college. Thats an eye opener and pretty sobering thought and that does'nt touch the guilt you'd have for taking a life. The only way to decrease drunken driving is to severely increase the penalties for doing so. The cruel fact is that the state doesnt have the resources to incarcerate so many folks and the tavern and liquor industry have bought off our politicians. Unless this changes expect to see more death and carnage on Wisconsin roads.

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