Archive for Monday, October 1, 2001

Drunken stupor

October 1, 2001


Comparative figures regarding the terrorist atrocities and alcohol-related deaths are horribly sobering.

Numbers often can be manipulated in both positive and negative ways, and don't always tell the full story about a given subject. But two figures that appeared in recent news stories are a grim testimonial to the devastating ways people can interact.

By now, millions of Americans are familiar with the fluctuating total of some 6,500 individuals who are likely to have been murdered in the New York City and Washington terrorist attacks via jetliner. There is no way to express verbally or even through the written word just how ghastly these crimes against innocents are.

Somewhat obscured by those atrocities, however, is another finding regarding alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States. This report, too, deserves closer attention.

Overall U.S. highway deaths in the year 2000 rose to 41,812, up from 41,717 in 1999. Forty percent of those fatalities, 16,653, involved alcohol, up from 38 percent, or 15,976, the previous year.

This marks only the second time alcohol-related deaths have increased since 1986, when an astounding 24,045 people were killed.

Clearly there has been progress, but not nearly enough particularly in view of the rise during 2000.

Consider that death toll of 16,653 due to substance abuse. It is more than twice the number of deaths in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, though the total from those is likely to increase with further accounting and reporting.

While officials ponder how to deal effectively with terrorists, there has been good knowledge for a long time about what to do about alcohol-related traffic accidents and deaths. Clearly we have not done as well as we should.

Teen-age drinking has not been controlled as forcefully as it must be. Friends who have allowed friends to drive after drinking share guilt for many sad situations. Parents who have refused to face up to the problem or, in fact, have even condoned alcohol consumption by their youngsters, should have to accept their responsibility for the fatal statistics.

Time and again, we have heard about murderous onslaughts by motor vehicles driven by people who previously were arrested, even convicted, for drunken driving but somehow were allowed to get behind a wheel again. Courts have not been stern enough to begin with and have not imposed enough barriers to prevent recurrence of alcohol abuse by drivers.

The 16,000-plus death toll for the past year was spread over a 12-month period while the more than 6,500 deaths in the East occurred in a matter of minutes. But the loss of life under any such circumstances is miserably unacceptable.

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