Drunk Driving. Rape.
Yesterday in Kalamazoo, a man driving a pickup truck, which had been repeatedly reported as erratic, plowed into a group of cyclists, killing five and injuring four. It hasn’t been reported yet that the man was intoxicated, but the case bears all the hallmarks of a drunk-driving atrocity. I’m sensitive to this issue on both sides.
Anyone who’s read this blog for long know that I drove drunk constantly for about 10 years. I drove drunk during the day and at night. I drove while continuing to drink whiskey. I drove on city streets and highways. I drove drunk with people in my car who didn’t know I was drunk. I liked driving drunk. Sometimes I would drive drunk even when I had no particular place to go.
My behavior was depressingly typical of alcoholics – and others who drink problematically, whether they are alcohol dependent or not. In the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous I hear stories almost every single meeting about driving drunk. And I don’t just mean having had a drink or four. I mean blackout falling down barely conscious world spinning drunk. That’s how I drove. That’s how most of us drove.
I don’t know how many members of AA there are. Some say as many as two million. But I know that recovered drunks are a small subset of drunks. I’m guessing somewhere around 3-5% of American drivers drive drunk on a regular basis. As cars have gotten safer, fewer people die. So the problem recedes into the background, because fewer traffic deaths means fewer headlines. But the crashes keep happening.
I’m also a cyclist now. And I fear drivers being drunk or distracted. I maintain a high level of vigilance and alertness to my surroundings. But as this incident shows, there’s not much you can do if someone is truly dangerous. I’m a bike. They’re a car. I’m going to lose. This is why I do most of my training on paved trails rather than on roads. Cars are just too dangerous. Luckily, there’s a paved trail near me that goes for about 25 miles.
I’ve heard that in America, if you want to get away with killing someone, do it drunk behind the wheel of a car. You’ll get 2-3 years and a lot of time off for good behavior. This is when I would reiterate my position: alcohol makes it worse, not better. Alcohol is not a mitigating factor. I’m sure this person – if he was drunk – will say that he would never have done such a thing sober and he is sick, not malicious.
An alcoholic is sick, certainly. But we are also malicious. While we drink, we do not care about your life or your rights or your autonomy or your liberty. We know it’s wrong to drink and drive. We don’t care. We drink anyway, we like driving drunk, we drive anyway. We kill. On purpose. Because we prefer us being drunk to you being alive.
Alcohol is not an excuse. Look at the Stanford rape case. The victim was drunk. The perpetrator was drunk. Neither of these things diminishes the rape, its severity, its heinousness, or the consequences to the victim. Nor should it diminish the consequences to the rapist. If anything, it should elevate them. We drink specifically in order to give ourselves permission to do things we normally would not do.
Do not accept the myth that my illness – alcoholism – excuses me from culpability for my actions. It does not. Alcohol does not excuse us. It reveals and enables our darker, more malignant designs.