Drunk Driving Is the Actual Worst
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

Drunk Driving Is the Actual Worst


drunk drivingRemember the “affluenza” kid, Ethan Couch? You know, the rich Texas teen who killed four people and somehow evaded jail time using his incredibly sheltered upbringing as a defense? In the first settlement to come out of his case, his parents agreed to pay $2 million dollars to the family of Sergio Molina, the paralyzed survivor of the accident who was riding in the back of Couch’s pickup. The Molinas weren’t happy with the settlement, but how could they be? When your kid is paralyzed for life, no amount of cash can cover the damages.

If I listed all the reasons why I’m grateful to be clean and sober today, we’d be here until George R. R. Martin finished A Song of Ice And Fire. Out of all those reasons, though, the thing that gives me the most profound sense of relief every day I dare to think about it is that I’ll never, ever, ever be Ethan Couch. Not if I don’t want to be. Recovery is all about honesty, and if I’m being honest, I could’ve and probably should’ve gotten a DUI on multiple occasions. And I don’t think I’m alone. Unless they live in cities like New York or Boston where it’s easy to get around car-free, most people with drinking problems have gotten behind the wheel with a less-than-legal buzz on at some point. In Southern California, getting on the interstate after five or six beers is practically standard procedure. And it’s terrible. It is literally the worst thing. And people do it again and again.

Take Pennsylvania’s Robert Landis, who managed to rack up seven DUI arrests before killing a 24-year-old motorcyclist in 2013. A judge sentenced Landis to 8-17 years in prison. At his previous hearings, 50-year-old Landis had regularly claimed that he was going to stay sober for good. Tragically, it didn’t work out. Clearly this man has a real problem, and who knows, he may really have been trying to do something about it. I can’t help feeling a small twinge of empathy for him, though it’s hard not to feel sickened with rage at the same time. The case has inspired new legislation that would raise the minimum sentence to seven years for repeat DUI offenders who cause fatalities (it’s currently three-to-six). But from the standpoint of the victims’ families, even that is too little too late. Shockingly, Landis hadn’t done any prison time at all until his seventh DUI—the one before the fatal accident.

Imagine living the rest of your life knowing that someone died because you had to have one more drink. Go on. Imagine it. Maybe some of you don’t even have to.

Back when I thought being “sober” meant an hour had passed since the last round of beers, I was quite a loose constructionist when it came to driving. In my phrasebook, “good to drive” meant that yes, I was physically capable of driving myself home. I could do it. Potentially. For a former nonbeliever, I sure put a heckuvalotta trust in the powers that be.  Sometimes I’d genuinely believe I was sober as I turned the ignition—because I hadn’t gotten lost on the way to my car, I’d remembered to pick up my credit card, I didn’t slur my goodbyes, I could still recite all the drinks I’d had that night. But other times, even I, the Princess of Denial, knew I was pushing my luck. I knew that if I was stopped I’d be out of a license, out of $10K, maybe out of a job. And I drove anyway. I’d chant “stay in the lane” again and again like a mantra, like a prayer, because I didn’t yet know how to pray for anything else. One night I made it back safely to my apartment in Redondo only to discover I’d left my phone back at the bar—15 miles away in Long Beach. So of course I got back in my car, cursing like mad, and drove right back down the highway, still less than sober. I found my phone and made it home once more. I guess I stayed in my lane.

Looking back, the worst thing is knowing that in those moments, drinking was more important than life itself—not just my own life, but anyone else’s. That’s a straight up horrifying thing to know about yourself. But that’s exactly what addiction is. Getting loaded is the top priority, and everything else is details. To be sure, not everyone who gets a DUI is an alcoholic; some of them are just reckless teenagers with underdeveloped judgment who assume they’re invincible. But Robert Landis knew—and I knew—what it feels like to know you shouldn’t do something and know you’re going to do it anyway because you just can’t stop.

But even if you can’t stop drinking, you can at least stop driving if you’re given enough decent options. At least that’s what the city of Austin, Texas is counting on with its “Know before You Go” campaign. Austin, which continues to be an oasis of awesomeness in the state that brought us Ethan Crouch’s affluenza, has taken great pains to ensure that would-be drunk drivers have no excuses. Kiosks throughout the downtown area allow you to pay for parking time the following morning if you need to leave your car overnight. And if you do get a parking ticket, the city will waive your fee if you can send a receipt for your taxi or bus fare. Let me repeat that: Austin is rewarding responsible decisions by waiving parking fees when you choose not to drink and drive. These incentives are just a few of the more novel ideas the college town is implementing to promote safer roads. If only L.A. would get on board with something like this.

Alcoholism is a strange disease in that it doesn’t just kill alcoholics. When I look back at the days of wine and road signs, I feel like I’ve dodged a bullet the size of a semi truck. God willing (did I just type that?), I’ll never get that DUI. Of course, I could still end up like poor Tanya Weyker, who was wrongfully slapped with DUI charges when a deputy rolled a stop sign, struck her car, and blamed her for the crash. But as long as I don’t pick up a drink, my disease doesn’t have to have a body count. And if more cities follow Austin’s lead, we can only hope fewer and fewer people’s will.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.