In my recent blogs, I described 4 of the 12 policies that were approved by the National Council of IOGT-USA last year.

In this blog I present Policies #5, #6  & #7, along with explanations as to why they are important. I conclude by offering suggestions for each as to how we as individuals, Chapters, and Councils might work to attain each of these goals.

So, we continue:

POLICY #5, WHAT IS MEANT WHEN THE ALCOHOL INDUSTRY SAYS, “DRINK RESPONSIBLY?”

We advocate that the alcohol industry spell out in its advertising, exactly what it means when it says to “drink responsibly.“

RATIONALE: It is interesting that the alcohol industry has indicated its awareness of the negative consequences of alcohol consumption by its ubiquitous use of the “drink responsibly” strategy. Supposedly this “media bite” covers all negative consequences of alcohol consumption; however, this belief becomes tested quickly when you go into a tavern and ask the various drinkers if they are “drinking responsibly”. The alcohol users, including binge-drinkers, will almost invariably tell you that they are all, indeed, “drinking responsibly.”

The alcohol industry is getting more than its moneys worth out of its “drink responsibly” gambit.  The alcohol producers include a tag line on every can and bottle telling the consumer to drink responsibly, and then they repeat the edict on every one of their advertisements and commercials. They, however, never tell the public what they mean by “drinking responsibly.”  It’s like somehow each person will just miraculously know if he or she is “drinking responsibly.”

What can you do to advance this policy?

A. You and a couple of other members can arrange to attend a cocktail party or go to visit a local tavern/pub and talk with some of the drinkers to find out if they believe they are drinking responsibly and what they thought responsible drinking was. Ask other related questions, then compare notes with your colleagues afterwards and see what conclusions you come up with.

B. Write to the various alcohol distributors in your area. Tell them of your findings and how misleading and meaningless the advertising bite, “drink responsibly” really is.

C. Publish your findings by way of letters to the editor of your local TV stations, newspaper and any other publications to which you have access.

POLICY #6,  LOWER BAC LEVELS

We advocate that the alcohol intoxication limits (Blood Alcohol Content -BAC) for driving be reduced from .08 to .05 as it is in most of European countries (in Sweden it is .02).

RATIONALE: The alcohol industries’ ardent quest to maintain a high legal alcohol intoxication rate for drinkers at what is actually an arbitrary figure (BAC of .08) further illustrates its false concern that drinkers should “drink responsibly.” Drinking to the .08 level would place you at or even above the legal level for intoxication. If the industry really cared about drivers, their passengers, and others on the road, there would be no question about reducing the BAC rate, but this apparently is not the case.

Advocating this policy of reducing the BAC level is basically just suggesting passing a law that would place us more in accord with most other Western Nations.  Much more importantly, however, it would save many American lives and injuries each year. Already, commercial truck drivers in the USA have a legal BAC limit of .04, and airplane pilots have a legal BAC limit of .02, as does the countries of Sweden and Poland for their automobile drivers.

We have been fighting the longest war in the history of the USA in Afghanistan, and after 11 years we recently had our 2,000th fatality there. This indeed was a terrible event, but we will kill almost that many Americans by drunk drivers this month alone, and next month and the next month.

Each month in the USA, we kill about 900 individuals in alcohol related automobile crashes, over 10,000 a year, one about every 48 minutes. Somehow we’re supposed to be happy about this because it’s a few less than last year.  Until some significant action is taken legislatively, this is the general outcome we can expect for years to come.

It is not only the deaths that are involved here. Consider that about 2-3 people are injured, some paralyzed for life as part of these crashes. The nation ends up with thousands more victims and family members suffering, physically and emotionally – sometimes for decades because of these lax drinking laws.

What can you do to advance this policy?

A. If this is an issue in your country, you, your organisation, and your Council can develop  a letter writing campaign (including emails, face book, and tweets) to state/provincial and federal government officials. Tell these officials that you are very concerned about the lax alcohol rules for driving and that in the interest of the safety of our citizens we must lower the BAC rates for drivers. Also write your local newspaper and TV station about this issue.

B. Keep track of all of the cases involving Drunk (DWI – Driving While Intoxicated) drivers who are arrested and those who cause automobile crashes and deaths in your city and state/province over a period of time, say 6 months or a year, to see how many cases are occurring in your area and how these cases are handled.  For example, some DWI cases do not make it to a court.

C. Contact the nearest MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) organization if there is one in your area. Explore the drunk driving issue with them and perhaps even work together on a safe driving campaign or some related project.  Invariably, their representatives have had a very personal relationship with a victim(s).  Be aware, however, that their organization is not working to reduce the BAC rate at this time – at least not in the USA.

POLICY #7,  INCREASE PENALTIES FOR DWI DRIVERS

We advocate that the penalties given by courts for death caused by a DWI driver need be more severe and enforced accordingly. In many states a drunk driver who has killed someone can receive as little as 4 years of incarceration with time off for good behavior.

RATIONALE: Perhaps one of the most exasperating things about the legal aspect of drunk driving is how little impact the law appears to have on it.  As already mentioned, many DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) cases are dropped without any penalty.  In the example of death caused by a person under the influence of alcohol, the case will probably go before a judge, but it is rare that the defendant will receive a sentence of more than 4-6 years in jail, and s/he often would be eligible to get out of jail early because of good behavior.

There are stories from some communities where people are DWI without a legal drivers license and can be stopped by the police and still not be arrested; yet, in some states they can be arrested and put in jail for just possessing a small amount of marijuana.    What can you do to advance this policy?

A. This policy focuses on the state/provincial governments and their judiciaries.  So, first you and your Chapter would have to check out your state/provincial laws regarding DWI/DUIs and find out what the penalties are for given infractions. Further, determine what penalties can arise as a result of a crash, and more importantly, if someone is injured or killed in a crash.

At the same time that members are gathering the data in 7A above, others could be checking out the police records with regard to DWI auto crashes resulting in death and injuries.  Then do follow up studies to find out what penalties each DWI defendant received from a judge.  If possible, check further to find out exactly how much time s/he actually served in jail.

B. Once this material is gathered, your chapter members can analyze it to determine if you do indeed have a valid case for strengthening DWI penalties for those convicted of killing another citizen.  If the results warrant it, then a campaign could be started in your state/province to  advocate that judges take these deaths more seriously.

This would involve letters to the editor of newspapers, city council people, state/province legislators, the governor, and appropriate judges at all state/province levels.

C. An interesting additional support group that you might involve in this operation is again, MADD, (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  Again, these members are often very personally involved with the legal aspects of such cases as they may have relatives or close friends who have dealt, often unsuccessfully with the court system.