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Are reckless & inattentive driving the new drunk driving? Part I

One of our posts last week focused on a study showing that alcohol in any measurable amount is associated with a higher risk of car accidents. Research like this contradicts a widely held perception that drinking and driving is relatively safe as long as the driver has a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

While much harder to measure, inattention and distraction work much like alcohol. The less we pay attention to the road and our surroundings, the more likely we are to cause an injurious or fatal crash. Unlike drunk driving, however, careless/reckless/inattentive drivers are unlikely to face criminal charges.

This comparison was recently made in a New York Times column by an NYU professor named Dr. Barron H. Lerner. He is the author of a book on the history of drunk driving. Earlier this month, his young nephew was struck and killed by a reckless driver as he was legally crossing the street.

Lerner notes that prior to the 1980s, drunk driving was not clearly defined, drunk driving laws were sparse, most drunk driving crashes were inadequately investigated and drunk drivers were rarely convicted. It would take the passionate advocacy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and similar groups to change laws and public attitudes.

These days, drunk driving is not only illegal; it is also vilified by the public. Unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to be as angry about drivers who are reckless, careless or inattentive – even when they cause injurious or fatal crashes.

Is it time to change public opinion about reckless and inattentive driving? Should we be seeking criminal charges when these behaviors lead to injury or death? Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: New York Times, “Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving,” Barron H. Lerner, Jan. 24, 2014

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