by Stephanie D. Shaw
Marriage had not changed his habits, and neither had his wife’s announcement that she was pregnant with their first child. In fact, that announcement began the sequence of events that led to his first DWI charge.
“I did what I thought I was supposed to do,” Andy says. “I went out with my buddies to celebrate. I was exactly three miles from my home when I was pulled over.”
A young college-educated professional with a good job, Andy had a lot to lose. But he had grown up thinking that driving after drinking, if a little risky, was normal.
It’s estimated that the average drunk driver who is arrested has driven drunk 80 times before their first arrest . Andy says he drove drunk “countless” times before his first DWI.
Andy was given a fine and probation – then frequently drove drunk for six more years. It took a second arrest and stiffer penalties to point him in the right direction.
“I was given the standard roadside tests, and almost had the officer talked into letting me call my wife to pick me up,” Andy said. “He seemed open to the idea. His backup officer arrived and probably saved my life.”
That backup officer decided there was reason to arrest Andy and take him to jail. At first Andy felt shame at getting caught. Then, cuffed to a bench in a police station, he had a moment of clarity.
“I thought to myself, ‘Andy, what are you doing?’”
Once released, Andy went home. His wife told him it was the last time she would take a phone call from jail informing her that he was under arrest. He knew she was serious. He made a promise the next morning to his wife and his two sons to change his ways.
“They were four and six at the time and probably didn’t even know what I was saying,” Andy says. “But that was the motivation I needed to make this work.”
To that motivation, the state added a stiff fine, seven days in jail, court-ordered alcohol education classes, and the installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device in Andy’s car. Andy had made promises to his wife before, but she was not always there to monitor them – nor was it her job. The interlock was always there to monitor his sobriety.
Today, Andy considers himself one of the lucky ones. His wife is not a widow, his children still have their father, and he did not take any innocent lives.
Unfortunately, not everyone is “one of the lucky ones,” although an enormous number of us persist in acting as if we will be.
In 2012, 29.1 million people , more than the population of Texas, admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol. That same year, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-involved crashes — including, tragically, 239 children.
The NTSB has issued more than a hundred recommendations to end the preventable loss of life at the hands of alcohol-impaired drivers. We’ve recognized that some DWI drivers are not deterred by traditional countermeasures, and persist in choosing to drive while impaired even after multiple DWI convictions.
According to NHTSA, repeat offenders are over-represented among alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes. NHTSA also estimates that drivers in fatal crashes with BACs of 0.08 or higher are seven times more likely to have a prior DWI conviction than those with no alcohol in their systems. Despite state efforts to address the problem, DWI repeat offenders continue to pose an undue risk.
But there are specific countermeasures that have been associated with reductions in DWI recidivism. These include vehicle sanctions that impound, incapacitate, or label offenders’ vehicles or license plates; alcohol abuse treatment programs; and 24/7 sobriety programs that employ technologies such as breathalyzers or transdermal alcohol monitoring to frequently or continuously check an offender’s alcohol use.
We recently had the opportunity to talk with Mike Iiams, Chairman & CEO of Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS), and some of his team, about the work they are doing to eliminate drunk driving across the nation. The flagship product of AMS is its SCRAM system. SCRAM is a continuous alcohol monitoring system that uses non-invasive transdermal analysis to monitor offenders 24/7 for alcohol consumption, and is in use in 49 states.
The NTSB has found that the most successful methods for controlling convicted DWI offenders and reducing recidivism is a comprehensive program that monitors offenders closely and holds them accountable. And, we are encouraged by the work the team at AMS is doing to help end impaired driving.
Andy has been sober now for nearly seven years. A promise about not drinking and driving was far too complicated to explain to his young sons. Andy swore off alcohol altogether. What was “normal” to Andy growing up is no longer “normal” to Andy’s sons. Now their role model is a father who does not drink at all.
But those who do drink should know that impairment begins at the first drink – including impairment in judgment about the next drink. If you make the decision to drink away from home, plan ahead — designate a sober driver or call a cab!
To learn more about the NTSB’s recommended actions on impaired driving, visit our 2015 Most Wanted List “End Substance Impairment in Transportation” page. For information on the impact of impaired driving in your state and what others are doing to reach zero impaired driving deaths visit:
Stephanie Shaw is a Safety Advocate in the Office of Communications
 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-46, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4795. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.