Salamat Dok: Hik! Vroom vroom! Screeech! - Drunk Driving

Posted at 11/16/10 1:53 PM

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” ~ Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald 

A party is never a party without alcohol. It's a must! Did I hear almost all of you said yes? Drinking alcohol has been part of many cultures. In fact, throughout history, the consumption of alcohol is part of the socialization process and the celebration of good times.
Consuming alcohol is not at all bad. Some medical researchers go so far as claiming it has health benefits when alcohol is taken in moderation but poses risks when we go beyond the normal intake.
When we go beyond drinking, one of the many major concerns particularly this coming holiday season is “drunk driving.” In the Philippines, almost every day drunk drivers are part of the news headlines.
In a report by Global Status Report on Road Safety, 1.2 million people die and many more get injured due to road accidents. Seven out of ten of these accidents are due to drunk driving.
It is believed that cases are much higher if it is reported and if it is admitted. Curiously, according to an official report by the Philippine National Police’s Highway Patrol Group, there has never been a recorded case of drunk driving in Metro Manila. By contrast, 279 cases were reported in other parts of the country during the first quarter of 2010, and what’s even more disturbing is that this figure is 150 percent higher compared in 2007. 
What is drunk driving? 

Drunk driving is sometimes called driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI). In developed countries, one is charged with DWI or DUI under the following conditions:

  1.  When one exceeds the blood alcohol limit or BAL permitted by a state
  2. You may also be guilty of DUI / DWI for driving when your physical abilities are impaired by the presence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol. Legally, it makes no difference whether the drug is legal or illegal, prescription or over-the-counter. (Criminal-law.Freeadvice.com) 
How does alcohol affect the body?

Dr. Alfonso Villaroman, Addiction Specialist and OIC-Director of the Department of Health Treatment and Rehabilitation Center explains, “In small amounts, alcohol can give us a feeling of euphoria but it’s actually a depressant. It decreases brain function which affects a person’s concentration, coordination, reaction time and fine motor skills -- small muscles of the body that enable us to write, grasp small objects, and fasten clothing."

This is even more critical when the effects are amplified with someone who is operating a motor vehicle. Some manifestations of alcohol’s effects to a driver in particular include one or a combination of the following: Slow reflexes, lost concentration, inability to make right decisions, decreased eye, hand and foot coordination.

Indicators of a drunk person
  • Slurred speech
  • Can be detected in the breath
  • Awkward or clumsy movements
  • Glassy stare or eye movements
  • Unnatural redness of the skin specially face
  • Uncontrollable laughter 
Signs of a drunk driver
  • Exhibits irregular driving: either very fast or very slow
  • Occupies an inappropriate lane
  • Often tail-gates other vehicles
  • Inappropriate swerving
  • Forgets to use headlights properly 
Case Study - Venida Family  

Abbie is missing her loved ones. She said that it has been 20 years since the fateful night but the memories of the accident are still very clear.

"We came from a party. Mother was the one driving. I recall hearing a loud metal crash, like a roller coaster. I felt something was on my chest," narrates Abbie Venida, the eldest among the 3 children. They were rushed to the nearest hospital. Abbie and her youngest brother survived but unfortunately her mom and other brother died.
Overnight, Abbie became the mother of the household. Her dad, who was a ship captain at the time, was compelled to resign from work. The accident was so traumatic for her and her 11-year old brother so they had to undergo some therapy.
"Whenever I see flashes of light, my heart trembles and I become nervous. For a while, I couldn't ride in a car. Eventually, I’ve learned to be strong but until now we haven't talked about it with my brother,” shares Abbie.
They never planned to sue the driver who caused the accident but the driver approached them and dared them to just appeal in court. Not once did the driver ever admit he was drunk when the accident happened. The case went though for 8 years but it ended with both victims forgiving the suspect. It was a very painful experience for her family but they accepted that it was an accident. She just hopes others would not have to meet the same fate that had befallen them. 

Case Study - Driver Rogelio

Drinking and driving isn’t new to Rogelio -- a truck driver -- but he was awakened when he met an accident. 

One day, he was on the road for 24 hours straight for a towing company he worked for. Very tired, he joined one of my colleagues in a drinking session, to “condition” his body and feel better. After 4 cases of beer, he said he still tried to drive back to the garage. "I thought I could still concentrate and see okay. I didn't know the traffic light was on stop mode because I saw it was green. I was horrified when I saw his car was very close to hitting a car," says Rogelio. 

Rogelio was very thankful that the car had only little damage but his head got injured. "We went to the police precinct. I remember chewing a lot of gum so they wouldn't smell that I was under the influence of liquor," he adds.
It was a long time ago but Rogelio said the fears that he experienced still come back. He says he came forward to share his story, hoping he can get a message to the viewers so they won’t have to commit the same mistake.  

Drunk Driving Bill 

"In the Philippines, there has no record yet of being jailed due to drunk driving," shares Dr. Orlando Ocampo, Chairman of the Committee on Trauma at Philippine College of Surgeons.

This is because we have no existing laws that prohibit and/or penalize driving under the influence of liquor or beverages. In other countries, their laws set a limit to the amount of alcohol present in a person's bloodstream. This is known as the Blood Alcohol Level or BAL.
Unlike the laws of other countries that set a specific BAL -- for example, .03% for Japan and .08 for the United States and United Kingdom - the Philippines has not defined a legally acceptable BAL limit. Consumption of one bottle of beer, to illustrate, has an estimated .02% blood sugar level, so if a driver has anything above that may already be considered driving under the influence of liquor.
Recently, former President and now Pampanga congressman for the 2nd District, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, filed House Bill 382 or Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol Act of 2010. This bill aims to make driving drunk driving illegal and punishable.
This bill gives a wide definition of blood alcohol level ranging from .06-.08%. While we agree, WHO recommends a fixed BAL of .04%. With BAL of .04% coordination is impaired so we want it lowered but of course everybody has a right to drink. What's wrong with this is when the right to drink is abused and the drinker becomes a menace to society," says Dr. Ocampo.
At present, numerous road accidents have been linked a drunk drivers. Many of them just pay a corresponding penalty as an ordinary violation but not formally reported as driving under the influence of alcohol or DUI. Luckily, the Automobile Association of the Philippines (AAP) donated a breath analyzer -- a tool to measure the alcohol presence in the breath -- to the Poison Center of Philippine General Hospital where Dr. Ocampo serves. "We used it to those who met accidents last year. Among motorcycle accidents, around 72% are BAL positive; 37% goes to car drivers. The problem is we couldn't label them as driving under the influence of liquor because we don't have a definite level set," says Dr. Ocampo. 
BAL or to Breath Analyzer?
Photo courtesy of Spyworld
According to Dr. Ocampo, to test blood alcohol level is quite costly at P250-300 per test. He thinks if we can afford the breath analyzer and distributes it among the authorities; it could generate good results if it becomes mandatory. "The Breath Analyzer is super user friendly. It also is quite quick - you just need 2-3 deep breaths, you're done! It's digital and you can actually print it for evidence. If ever I was asked what to recommend to local law enforcement, it should be breath analyzer instead of BAL," explains Dr. Ocampo. 
Advice to the Motorists
"We cannot avoid drinking but as a drinker we should responsible," advise Dr. Villaroman. Of course we can still enjoy drinking but to avoid the hassles, here are some of his tips: 
  • Designate a driver
  • Don't force yourself. Let somebody fetch you.
  • Tell your (undrunk) friends to accompany you in going home
  • Take a taxi
  • Give it a break. Sleep it off somewhere before turning on the ignition. 
October 30, 2010