One of my best buddies was crushed in his car-versus-truck head-on drunk driving crash years back. It still affects me. Yet with the prevalence of these incidents, the issue of drunk driving as a concern is one that is barely mentioned in the press or the media in general. Yes, there is reporting about the latest car crash in the news if it’s sensational enough. But all too often, crashes themselves are ignored or given space only on the back pages. The Minneapolis StarTribune ran a story about a car/truck drunk driving crash in SW Minnesota just the other day. The facts are nearly identical to my friend’s crash, reminding me of it. No editorial followed.
About a third of all deadly automobile deaths are due to alcohol-impaired driving. While you may see the occasional report about the crash itself, when was the last time you can remember a news article, opinion piece or reportage discussing the causes and solutions to the drunk-driving epidemic? And is it an epidemic? You be the judge. Year in and year out over ten thousand people die here in the United States from alcohol-related crashes. Another three hundred thousand are injured and maimed each year as well. The federal government does a decent job of collecting this data and posting it to the web, but the average American citizen is just not going looking for it in the dusty caverns of government archives when so many other things are demanding their attention. The media are complicit in this vacuum, so is the alcohol industry, and so are we.
Why is it a deadly, dirty business? Deadly certainly, but dirty? The simple answer is that it is a business that numbs the senses and kills over three million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization all the while hiding under color of law and custom. News analysis and promotional articles detailing what might further be done to curtail these kinds of deaths and injuries don’t sell newsprint or airtime. Further, the kinds of articles one sees in the popular press about preventing drunk driving tend to be much more about just stopping repeat offenders. Gee whiz technology like breathalyzer interlocks ordered into repeat offender’s cars to keep them from starting if sufficient alcohol is present as a means of deterrence does get coverage from time to time. Tax policy, sales outlet density, hours of sale, police alcohol check-point policy, and blood alcohol limits are rarely discussed. So, things are pretty quiet around the media about alcohol and drunk driving.
Speaking of business, what about the alcohol industry? It’s pretty much business as usual there too. But while public discourse is fairly well muted about the causes and cures of drunk driving, the alcohol industry is busy ramping up advertising for its products after a long hiatus on advertising, especially of distilled drink products. Where does this advertising occur? In the very same publications and on airtime referred to above. This is not to say that there is a conflict of interest on the part of the media, but money talks and a lot of money talks louder. So, it would seem in a perfect world for the alcohol industry, their word gets out, and cautionary policy pieces are held to a minimum. And as was stated in the beginning, that’s pretty much the way things stand right now. Not to mention the thirty million dollars spent annually by the alcohol industry lobbying in Washington every year protecting and advancing its interests. And so, things start to look a little dirtier.
The public demand for high-quality analysis of this awful combination of alcohol and cars is entirely non-existent. As well it might be. Journalists and pundits would have to go far down the extra mile to make such a discussion interesting, knowledgeable and sustained. It is argued here that that is their job. But if the public isn’t interested, and hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries are thought to be the acceptable cost of getting around and doing business, then like the lady said, “where’s the beef?”