Two Lawrence residents left Wednesday on a cross-country bicycle trip. They and another friend, Casey Beaver, had planned for some time to make the trip. Planning for their journey from Oregon to Washington, D.C., took on a special meaning last year after Casey was killed in a traffic collision involving a drunken driver. Now they plan to travel across America to honor their friend's memory and warn others about the dangers of drunken driving.
State lawmakers are taking a different approach. Gov. Bill Graves signed legislation this week strengthening the penalties for driving under the influence in Kansas. Fines have been raised and jail time increased. The new law allows judges to consider all previous DUI convictions when determining penalties rather than just the convictions in the previous five years.
Offenders would be required to complete a drug or alcohol treatment program, and ignition interlock devices will be required for people who fail a breath alcohol test more than once. The devices require drivers to pass a breath alcohol test before the car will start. The state also will permanently revoke drivers licenses for people who fail a blood-alcohol test for the fifth time. To many, that seems pretty lenient, but the driver who struck Casey Beaver's car had eight previous DUI convictions under his belt.
A driver like that obviously has little regard for the laws against drunken driving. Such cases raise questions about how effective laws are in actually curbing drunken driving. Impaired by the consumption of alcohol, drunken drivers have little ability at the time to judge their fitness to drive or consider the possible consequences.
Lawrence, unfortunately, has seen several local residents killed in the last year in collisions involving drunken drivers. Will the realization that their negligence has taken another person's life get through to these drivers in a way that the threat of legal penalties could not?
Maybe. We can hope. If not maybe it will prompt friends to be more assertive in taking the car keys away from someone who clearly is unfit to drive. Or perhaps more people will recognize before they start drinking that getting drunk before they drive home isn't worth the risk.
Simply consuming alcohol isn't a crime. Its only potential victim is the person doing the drinking. But when that person gets behind the wheel of a car, the potential victims are everyone else who has the misfortune to be on the same road at the same time.
Laws alone can't remedy this situation. It's up to each of us to take the responsibility to keep ourselves and others from drinking and then getting behind the wheel.