Every day, almost 30 people die as a result of drink driving. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes that is the direct result of an alcohol impaired driver. Every two minutes of every single day, a person is injured in a drink driving crash. Last December 3rd, Law Enforcement Officer Noah Leotta, 24, became another statistic after Luis Reluzco had been drinking for four hours in Hooters before he got behind the wheel of his car and struck him down. Reluzco had also been smoking marijuana and was so intoxicated when he was arrested that he was unable to stand up. Sadly, the bright young officer with his whole life ahead of him and lots of potential died of his injuries a week later.

Repeat Offender Charged with Manslaughter

The drunk driver responsible for his death was charged with manslaughter. It wasn’t the first time he had driven while intoxicated. He had previous convictions for drink driving in 1988 and 1990. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention say that on average, a person will drink drive 80 times before they are caught. Noah Leotta was killed in the commission of trying to prevent the crime that actually killed him, leading some to question whether the current anti-drink-drive laws are enough to prevent the injuries and deaths that occur from driving under the influence.

Police Chief Hits Out

Montgomery County Police Chief, Tom Manger, expressed his frustration at Noah’s funeral service, by saying

“This young police officer, who is an example of what every cop should be, was killed by a man who decided to smoke some dope, drink for four hours and get behind the wheel of a car.”

He suggested that the criminal penalties for drink driving and vehicular manslaughter were too low.

Are Drink Driving Laws Effective?

Drink driving is an endemic problem in the United States and costs the government $199 billion a year and puts a strain on the police force. DUI’s are the most common reason for an officer to make an arrest. Resources are also used to set up traffic stops to pull over drivers who are driving irregularly. This huge public bill, equivalent to $800 for each adult American citizen has occurred despite several laws in place, designed to reduce alcohol related fatalities.

Laws we have include a minimum purchase age for alcohol of 21 years (higher than many countries), a minimum driving age and a blood/alcohol content limit of 80mg per 100ml of blood – or 0.08%.

Will Lowering Blood/Alcohol Levels Help?

Opponents of stricter laws say that the majority of alcohol related accidents occur when drivers have a blood/alcohol level of 0.10%. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration say that over 92% of drink driving accidents were the fault of drivers with levels over this amount. They argue, then, that arresting mild or moderate social drinkers who have driven their vehicle correctly, would be largely ineffective, would over-tax the correctional system and do nothing to stop habitual heavy drinkers from getting in their cars.

Educating Future Drivers on the Danger of DUI

Perhaps then, more focus should be placed on educating young people about drink driving through school-based programs that teach the dangers of DUI before they become drivers as well as recognizing the signs of intoxication and not getting into a vehicle with a drunk driver. Victim impact statements could work equally as well as in a classroom as they do in a courtroom. By allowing victims and their relatives to speak about their experiences to teens in schools, a positive effect could be obtained. More mass media campaigns, sobriety screening in places of work and in medical settings to identify people with drinking or drug problems and the mandatory installation of ignition locks in cars of habitual offenders could save more lives.

Ignition Locks: If You Drink, You Shouldn’t be Able to Drive

If all first time offenders had an ignition lock fitted, they would not be able to start their car if their breath measured over the limit. As most drivers involved in alcohol related accidents have driven repeatedly before they are arrested – physically preventing them from driving – could be the key to preventing more deaths like that of Officer Noah Leotta.

Written by Anne Reddy