Take away the keys

Our generation seems oddly accepting of drunk driving. It’s ridiculous.

Matthew Hoy

I was sitting outside of Kolthoff Hall last week when I heard another student complaining loudly about the police officer who had busted him for drunk driving.

The student bemoaned the fact that he had still been charged after only blowing slightly over the legal limit. His two friends offered their nuggets of remorse and cursed the cop who had so unjustly punished him.

After this genuine display of empathy, the kid — and I must insist on calling him a kid — who had been charged with driving under the influence quit lamenting his misfortune and moved on to bragging about how many drinks it had taken to get him over the legal limit. I didn’t catch the exact number because I was too busy vomiting from disgust.

Okay, not really, but I was too shocked to completely understand what was going on.

After the boast, his friends proclaimed how impressed they were and congratulated him, then went on their way.

I wish I had walked over to that group of students, called them pieces of human garbage and gone off to class. Instead I didn’t say anything and decided to write an article about them because that story doesn’t end with me getting attacked with a Taser.

Coincidentally, a couple of days later one of my close friends got busted for driving drunk. His response was less reprehensible and a lot more filled with self-loathing.

Maybe it wasn’t the move of a friend, but I didn’t comfort him. His was an action that warrants self-loathing.

Now, my friend comes from a pretty wealthy family, and when they found out about his mistake there was immediately talk of hiring a lawyer to get the charges dropped so they could simply pay a fine.

It’s pretty gross for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that people ought not to be able to buy their way out of crimes, but it also highlights an obnoxiously pervasive cultural paradigm.

It’s the attitude that those people who get busted for drunk driving close to the legal limit are getting screwed.

I heard it constantly when I worked in a bar. Parents in my suburban hometown fought against my school’s administrators because of it, and my close friend’s family is embracing it in defense of him even though he is guilty.

It feels like it should be obvious why driving drunk is one of the stupidest, most heinous things people do, but apparently that sense is not as common as it seems. In 2011, 9,878 people died in alcohol-impaired driving accidents. And when someone drives drunk, they’re not just putting their own life at risk — they’re risking the lives of anyone else who happens to be around them.

That same year, 226 children were killed in drunk driving accidents. Of these children, 122 were riding with the impaired driver.

We don’t think of this problem in the same way as we do school shootings. Whenever a large group of children is killed by some deranged gunman, we justifiably react in ways that attempt to remedy the problem, whether it be banning guns, arming teachers or making a Lifetime movie about the killer.

When we find out that a kid died in a drunken driving accident, we sigh, shake our heads knowingly, and bemoan the foolish waste of life.

Then, 17 million of us — which is the number of people who have admitted to driving drunk — go out and propose a toast to hypocrisy.

I can’t find an easy explanation for it.

Part of it might be that members of our generation, especially young men, seem to take a great amount of pride in their ability to drink, and so the impulse to reward people for copious consumption overrides the logical reaction of ridicule.

Part of it might be the misappropriation of rap group N.W.A.’s brand of sentiment towards cops. The glaring issue there is that N.W.A. was articulating racial tensions between police officers and a group of people whom they had traditionally disenfranchised, while those defending drunk drivers are endorsing behavior that needlessly results in the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders every year. The distinction is obvious.

But the best explanation I can come up with is that recklessness and risk-taking are associated with bravery, and bravery with masculinity.

In a culture that so glamorizes masculinity, driving drunk and getting away with it almost takes on a cowboy-outlaw level of heroism. If that is true, then we’ve turned a selfish, immature, irresponsible and abhorrent act into an ode to courage.

Whatever the explanation, it’s a cultural problem, and cultural problems are correctable. It takes the collective effort of a society to change them.

So, the next time you encounter anyone bragging about this behavior, say something to them. Ask them how cool it would be to kill an innocent person.

You’ll probably get cursed at and insulted, as I think it’s safe to assume that anyone you find bragging about this is not of a terribly high moral caliber.

But maybe you’ll completely shame someone about an action they should be ashamed of, and little by little we’ll cure society of this illness.

After all, that’s totally worked with everything else that’s ever been wrong with the world, right?