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Maryland Parents Who Drink and Drive

You don’t want your teens to do it, but do you — the parent — drink and drive?

The website for Maryland Parents of Young Drivers warns that drinking any amount of alcohol and driving shows your kids it’s okay for them to do it too.

And studies show that the “problem drinkers” are now 31 to 40 years old, whereas in previous years it’s been 18 to 34, says Liza Aguila-Lemaster, Impaired Driving Coordinator for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“They are the ones who are overrepresented [as problem drinkers”, ] she said. “Clearly, many of these fall into the ‘parents’ category.”

Statistics prove many parents are putting their own children in danger by driving while impaired.

In fact, 68 percent of children killed in alcohol-related crashes nationwide between 1997 and 2002 were riding in the same car as the drunk driver, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control.

And the smallest of children are likely victims. Thirty-three percent of minors riding in the car of the at-fault driver in alcohol-related crashes in 2006 were nine years old or younger. Children under nine years old were 53 percent of the total number of minor-aged occupants involved in alcohol-related crashes.

Drunk driving continues to be a major problem that state and national law enforcement are trying to tackle. Forty-one percent of all vehicular fatalities in Maryland were alcohol-related and 25,000 DUI arrests were made in Maryland in 2006, said Lora Rakowski, spokesperson for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Rakowski said there was a decline between 2004 and 2005, but between 2005 and 2006 the number of DUI arrests and alcohol-related fatalities increased by about 12 percent.

We’re not sure [why]. We’re getting a lot better with our reporting system and we’re combing through the information. We do have a number of campaigns underway,” she said.

Because it may seem like many of the drunk driving campaigns out there are directed toward teenagers and young adults, drunk driving among parents is an issue that may be overlooked.

“It’s definitely something we deal with,” said Caroline Cash, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) for the Chesapeake Region. Cash said the organization endorses a brochure titled, “Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver.” Inside it reads, “MADD continues to receive an increasing number of alarming calls from concerned individuals regarding children riding with alcohol-impaired drivers. These calls are not from victims of drunk driving crashes, but from potential victims. Many of these calls indicate that reports filed with state agencies are slipping through the cracks of the system, putting children at greater risk of victimization. There does not seem to be relief for the problem because of the lack of public awareness of child endangerment as it relates to Driving Under the Influence or Driving While Intoxicated (DUI/DWI).”

Cash said she once rode along with police on a sobriety checkpoint in Prince George’s County. The officer pulled over a woman who blew a .24 on her Breathalyzer test, while in the backseat was a seven-year-old child. The child’s mother was in the front seat, unconscious.

This is not a rare occurrence,” Cash said. “For us [MADD], drinking and driving with a child in the car is a form of child abuse. When you see a child in the car of an impaired driver, the chances are great that you’re looking at someone with an alcohol problem. A majority of parents try to be extremely responsible. When you have an addiction, the power of denial is amazing,” she said.

Sergeant Arthur Betts of the Maryland State Police said they’ve made over 6,390 DUI arrests in the state this year to date.
“That’s a lot, that’s too many,” he said.

And with many of the “drinking holidays” coming up like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, Rakowski said she expects a spike in the number of impaired drivers on the road

Rakowski and Betts said it’s difficult to track how many parents, specifically, in the state have been arrested for DUI or involved in alcohol-related crashes, and Betts says that many arrests that he’s seen occur during later hours when people don’t have children in the car

Though both officials said they do not have specific drunk driving programs in place that target parents, they say their message is meant for everyone

“We all need to be concerned about the impaired driving issue, because the sad fact remains that we all share the road with impaired drivers. We could be the next victims even if we’re doing everything right,” says Rakowski. “We don’t discriminate,” said Aguila-Lemaster. “Everyone’s a drinker. If you’re of age, you’re able to receive our message.”

“Anybody who does it [drinks and drives], whether having one or ten [drinks], is a problem. It’s even worse to risk the life of a child,” Betts said. “We do everything in our power to make it [DUI arrests and crashes] as least traumatic as possible [for the child]. The first priority is the child.”

Many officials also agree that drinking and driving as parents could encourage their children to follow suit as they become new drivers. “If you don’t use your seatbelt, your children will follow that bad example. If they see you have a few drinks and drive, children will think it’s okay,” Aguila-Lemaster said

Betts could not say which areas in Maryland had the most DUI arrests because each local barrack determines places where it will set up sobriety checkpoints. But Betts says he’s noticing improvement in the public.

“I believe people are becoming more cognizant in that they are taking more precautions not to drink and drive,” Betts said

“I think that what’s really improved is public awareness and high visibility enforcement,” Cash said. “To prevent future drunk driving, we’re [MADD] asking that all first time offenders should have ignition interlock starters [which require a driver to blow into an alcohol measuring system before the car will start.] Putting your child in the car with someone who’s had the least amount to drink is still endangering your child’s life.”

Kayleigh Kulp is a recent NYU graduate and freelance writer from St. Mary’s County, MD.

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