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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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When Drunk Driving Gets Personal

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Today, I came across the following article by Dr. Brad Uren, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan, and a past president of the Michigan College of Emergency Physicians. I think it is worth you read.

As an emergency physician, I often encounter people having the worst day of their lives.

Tragedies of all types find a way into emergency departments every day. Some of the hardest situations to understand are those tragedies that are easily preventable in the first place. Drunken driving injuries and deaths associated with drunk driving often strike emergency department workers especially hard because they are so tragic and senseless.

I’ve seen my share of impaired driving injuries and fatalities in my career. Each one is an individual tragedy that leaves a mark on anyone that encounters them. However, it is altogether more shocking when it impacts you personally outside of the professional setting.

In April of 2015, an individual with a history of prior drunk driving convictions — holding no valid drivers’ license — chose once again to drink and drive.

He never made it to his intended destination, instead veering off of the highway and careening across a grassy lot, where he demolished a wall and lodged his 6000 pound pick-up truck in the multipurpose room of my son’s daycare. Think about that for a second. If you’re a parent — think about that for a minute.

Fortunately, this occurred near the end of the day and the children and employees that remained in the building were located in what turned out to be safe areas preparing to go home. That was just luck.

All the families impacted by this incident realize that we were incredibly fortunate that day. Just a few hours earlier up to a dozen children could have been playing, reading, or enjoying arts and crafts time in that very room. Only hours before, my son would probably have been curled up in his favorite nap spot in the corner just feet from where the truck blew through the wall.

Too often, drunk drivers think of only themselves, even when their decisions and actions affect so many others. They expect that they will be able to make it home because they are “OK” to drive. Drunk drivers often only think in terms of potential damage to their vehicle or injury to themselves. However, once you have made the decision to get behind the wheel while intoxicated, it is no longer just about you.

I believe that the national conversation on this topic needs to focus on the responsibility of the driver. Designated drivers are the norm, not the exception. In a day and age when taxis, public transportation, and ridesharing apps like Uber are ubiquitous — there is no excuse for drunk driving. No excuse whatsoever.

Treatment should be available for offenders as soon as possible to prevent further events from happening. There is good evidence that early intervention prevents many from drinking and driving again. However, this intervention should be backed by the societal conviction that there is no tolerance for this continued behavior. We must be willing to enforce the sanctions that will keep innocent victims from harm.

At least some of the children involved in this incident have expressed their anxieties in their own ways. One has asked “will a man smash into our house too?” These kinds of questions are heartbreaking to hear. Children should be able to live free from these types of anxieties.

I look forward to a day when society shows the resolve to demand responsible choices about impaired driving.

I believe in treatment and intervention to get those with substance abuse issues the help they need. However, if someone chooses to ignore their obligation to society, I believe we must show the will to impose the sanctions that will prevent offenders from pointing weapons weighing thousands of pounds at more innocent victims — like my child.

Stories like this need to keep going if we are ever going to stop such senseless auto accidents. I encourage you to share Dr. Uren’s story; I encourage you to visit the “Faces of Drunk Driving” website and learn from their stories as well. I also encourage everyone to not only make a pledge to avoid drinking and driving, but to eliminate all distractions – texting or talking on a cell phone, fiddling with the radio, eating, shaving, applying make-up, etc, – that could take your eyes off the road, if only for a minute. It is up to all of us to make sure we are doing everything possible to be safe and responsible on our roadways.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.