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Drunks don't cause accidents; they kill people
By Annette Fuller (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-07-10 07:53

Drunks don't cause accidents; they kill people

Evening of June 30: A car careens out of control on a busy Nanjing Street, killing five people, including a seven-month pregnant woman. Photographs taken by bystanders posted on various websites sickeningly show the fetus, with its umbilical cord still attached, ripped out of her stomach and curled up beside her body.

Her husband was killed, too, and a blossoming family felled in one swoop.

Just before she died, Zheng Lin, 27, wrote about her baby in her blog: "I can hear the beating of its heart. That's the most wonderful sound in the world. It's amazing."

We cannot fathom the pain of the families and friends of the five victims.

How could this happen?

The harsh reality is that it happens when someone drinks too much and gets behind the steering wheel of a car.

Tests after the crash have showed the driver, Zhang Mingbao, 43, had an alcohol content of 381 mg per 100 ml of blood. A person is considered drunk if the alcohol content is above 80 mg per 100 ml, meaning Zhang's blood alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit.

Local media reports say Zhang has committed nearly 80 driving offenses, including 39 for speeding, in less than three years.

This week, Zhang was formally arrested and charged with the crime of "endangering public security in a dangerous way," which is a severe charge - taking into account the gravity of the incident.

On June 30, his car hit nine people - some at a watermelon stand - and six vehicles, before finally stopping. The horror of what happened in Nanjing is just beginning to settle in.

For a bit of perspective, let me tell you about drunk driving and how it is viewed in the US, the country I come from.

The US has an organization called Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). It was formed in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was killed by a habitual drunk driver. The organization grew into a powerful lobby and doggedly sought to change the law on drunk driving so that penalties became quite harsh, especially for repeat offenders. Penalties today range from several days to several years in jail, as well as suspension of driver's license.

But MADD didn't just work on changing the law. It worked to get a concept across the public: That drunk driving car incidents are not "accidents".

Its philosophy is that drunk driving is an intentional act. If you get behind the wheel drunk, you are making an active decision to potentially harm others.

Many newspapers in the US have rules that reporters cannot refer to drunk driving incidents as "accidents". So we had to write our news stories using other words, such as "crashes" or "collisions".

A drunk driver should not be allowed to say: "I was not responsible for my actions. I was too drunk to realize that I should not have been driving."

Some have even tried to argue that they are alcoholics and therefore suffer from an illness and that makes them not responsible.

These arguments are just plain crazy. This is like saying: "I was so angry at my wife that I lost control of my senses. So I cannot be blamed for killing her."

A person who continues to drink (at home, at a bar, or wherever) is making a choice to continue to drink. Everyone knows the more you drink, the less coherent (and dangerous behind the wheel) you become.

And if you have an addiction, you are responsible for fixing it yourself.

When Zhang goes to trial, I can only assume his defense lawyers will be working overtime to defend him in court.

But these defenses are not valid and should be summarily dismissed in court.

One Jiangsu-based lawyer, Jia Zheng, has got it right. China Daily quoted him as having said: "The driver should be charged with an offense against public safety. He knew his drunken driving could put pedestrians at risk. That is intentional behavior, not inattentive driving."

I have difficulty not hating this man who brought intense, lasting pain to so many families. But I do not want to hate anyone. I know that in the end, it would harm me, not the object of my hate.

But I do hope Chinese police and courts deal with this man with the underlying philosophy that drinking, and driving drunk, was a choice he made. And he will be held fully responsible for that choice - because the massacre that took place on June 30 was not an accident.

E-mail: annetteminda@yahoo.com

(China Daily 07/10/2009 page9)