Herman: How we can end drunken driving

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017 Opinion
Clockwise, from top: Scott Latulippe was critically injured in a crash on Research Boulevard on Nov. 11, 2017. His wife, Nancy, was killed; his 10-year-old daughter, Kiera, survived; his 14-year-old son, Jackson, was killed. Photo courtesy of the Valley Roadrunner

Senseless deaths. Again. Innocent victims. Again. Survivors’ lives forever changed. Again.

News coverage and tears, thoughts and prayers, head scratching and soul searching. Again. And then we move on without doing anything by way of prevention though there are potential solutions worth serious consideration. Again.

Again. Again. Again. Again. Again. In this context, such a sad word.

The problem is easy to delineate. The annual deaths — thousands and thousands and thousands — result from irresponsible use of a legal, though potentially lethal, product that, in overwhelming proportions, is safely used and enjoyed.

On a recent autumn weekend day in Texas, we saw the devastation when the product is misused.

You’re thinking Sutherland Springs and shootings and deaths.

Me too. But I’m also thinking Austin and drinking and driving and deaths.

Firearms cause about 33,000 deaths a year in the U.S. About two-thirds are suicides. Alcohol is involved in about 88,000 deaths a year. In 2016, there were 10,497 deaths resulting from alcohol-impaired drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Gun-related deaths and alcohol-related traffic fatalities are consistent sources of horribly bad news. But today, I bring good news. Stick with me for a minute and I’ll tell you how we can just about eliminate drunken driving.

INTERACTIVE DATABASE: Homicides in Austin

On Nov. 11, six days after the Sutherland Springs church shootings, there was a mid-afternoon wreck on Research Boulevard. Police say driver Guy Brasted, 41, was drunk and caused it.

Nancy Latulippe, 38, and her 14-year-old son Jackson were killed. Scott Latulippe, 41 (Nancy’s husband and Jackson’s dad) died six days later. Daughter Keira, 10, also in the car, is left without a dad and a mom and a brother.

The southern California family, visiting friends here, was headed to the airport, bound for head home, according to Jim Enos, Nancy Latulippe’s dad.

The warrants for Brasted’s arrest for intoxication assault and intoxication manslaughter say Brasted’s Jeep “was northbound on Research Blvd., lost control, leaving the roadway, crossing the cable barrier and the grassy median.” The Jeep hit the Latulippes’ vehicle head on, and the warrant said Basted’s blood-alcohol concentration was .203, way above the legal limit of 0.08.

“I believe Guy Brasted violated Texas Penal Code 49.08, Intoxication Manslaughter, by operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, caused a crash, and causing death … by reason of that intoxication,” Austin police detective Renee Fox wrote.

So sad. So unnecessary.

So preventable.

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The solution is mentioned on the “order of commitment” filed in the case which notes Brasted will have to install a vehicle ignition interlock if released on bond and will be barred from driving any motor vehicle without the device that prevents a vehicle from starting unless the driver passes a breath analysis test. Perfect? No. Tamper proof? Probably not. Pretty darned effective? Yes.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving reported this year that, for the previous 10 years, ignition interlocks ordered for drivers with previous DWIs stopped 2.3 million drunken driving attempts. In Texas, the number for the 10-year period was 244,991.

What if Brasted’s Jeep had such a device?

As with gun users, a tiny fraction of those who imbibe alcoholic beverages cause any problems. Most owners of guns are responsible. Ditto for alcoholic beverage consumers. But there are horrific exceptions, again and again at a cost of thousands of lives, sometimes the drunken drivers, sometimes others who cross their paths.

There are laws we should pass that could help curtail mass shootings. There’s one law we should pass that could make drunken driving not only illegal, but nigh unto impossible.

Let’s make ignition interlocks mandatory in all motor vehicles.

As a non-consumer of alcoholic beverages, this is easy for me to propose. Others will see it as an intrusive, overkill solution. Those others might include social drinkers who periodically socially drink too much but who’ve always managed to drive home without killing themselves or anybody else.

Maybe Brasted was in that category until the day his path crossed with that of a family headed home.

On Nov. 16, five days after the tragedy, Peggy Brasted of Eunice, N.M., posted this on Facebook:

“Our son just called. Here’s what he said. He was not drinking, he had been downtown Austin to visit the Capitol, saw a parade, stop at the VFW and visited with the older vets. He stopped at Hooters and had 1 beer and was on his way home. He turned the wrong way and made a u-turn and that’s the last thing he remembers.”

Brasted is a former Marine.

On Nov. 19, Peggy Brasted wrote on Facebook: “Going to put this out there. Guy was not drinking the day of his wreck. He had been celebrating his Marine Corps birthday the night before, so it was still in his blood. No excuse, just explanation.”

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I reached out and respectfully requested to speak with her. Within an hour, she posted this: “I have had to set my page to private because reporters in Austin are checking my post and want to interview me. What gall.”

Perhaps, but I took her very public Facebook posts as from somebody who wanted the world to hear her side of this sad story. My apologies to her if I was wrong.

I’m sure there are cost considerations and other reasons that might argue against mandatory ignition interlocks on all vehicles. Ditto for proposals that could curtail mass shootings. And there are political realities that factor into the equation with both products.

But be it guns or alcohol, thousands and thousands of deaths a year argue for change, perhaps the kind of radical change that seems to defy thoughtful discussion.

And as with so much these days, the answer might be in technology. Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for MADD, told me about the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety Program, an effort involving automakers and NHTSA. The program is working toward a passive system that would use either a touch of ambient air system that would prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver is above the legal blood-alcohol limit.

Harris said the device, still several years from being ready, would start out as a vehicle option but could eventually become standard equipment, kind of like how anti-lock brakes evolved.

The ultimate solution, he said, will be fully self-driving vehicles.

“We can eliminate the crime of drunk driving,” Harris said.

Yes, it’s pretty certain we’ll eliminate driving before we eliminate drinking. Too bad the decoupling of that dangerous combination is several years and thousands and thousands of deaths down the road.

RELATED: California family shattered after fatal wrong-way crash in Austin

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