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Awareness not enough to fight drunk driving

What others say

Posted: Monday, July 25, 2005

From May 21 through June 16, (Fairbanks) law enforcement officers made 45 alcohol-related driving arrests, 14 of which involved repeat drunken driving offenders, according to a list compiled by a local researcher.

Those arrests came in the month following the tragic death of a local teenager hit alongside a roadway by a driver who remains jailed on drunken driving charges. They came in a month when community awareness of drunken driving was at a fever pitch. They came as the number of drunken driving-related deaths climbed to three in the space of as many weeks.

Local public awareness of the risks of driving while impaired was arguably as high as it possibly could be. Obviously, that awareness didn't curb drunken driving to a great degree. Obviously, even prior arrests did little to curb the habits of nearly a third of those arrested for repeat offenses in that one-month period.

Brenda Sadler, president of the local Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter, passed along the list to a reporter at Monday night's Fairbanks City Council meeting. Ellen Ganley of Information Insights compiled the list as part of her volunteer efforts for the MADD Fairbanks Coalition.

Sadler came before the council to testify in favor of a resolution, which was passed, that asks the state legislature to make tougher drunken driving laws a priority next session. Similar resolutions are in the works with the North Pole City Council and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.

The remaining two resolutions should pass their respective governing bodies.

But it doesn't end there.

Community members should join with those officials in continuing to ask legislators to explore appropriate measures that could be used to deter drunken driving. It's clear that current levels of public awareness and current enforcement measures simply are not enough. Looking nationwide, Alaska's relatively small population has a horrible drunken driving record.

Laws that are more harsh, it seems to reason, cannot hurt the cause for public safety--as long as law enforcement agencies have the resources to enforce those rules and as long as the judicial system follows through appropriately. Doubly, public awareness must apparently be raised to the point where that broad-based knowledge supercedes fear of death, fear of jail and has some greater power to overcome one of the first victims of alcohol consumption — impaired judgment.

''NO,'' we must collectively convince drinkers, ''you are NOT OK to drive.''

Legislators have control of law books and purse strings that can be tweaked to assist us in improving public safety efforts. Encouraging lawmakers to do what they can is a first good step. Ultimately though, it appears some of the best preventative measures will come on the part of a public that has resolved to make a difference for our communities and our state.

So let it be resolved.

— The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

July 14



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