Beverly Beckham

Drunken driving: deaths we can do something about

A wall in NewYork bore images of those unaccounted for just after 9/11. In the decade since, 400,000 have died on US roads. A wall in NewYork bore images of those unaccounted for just after 9/11. In the decade since, 400,000 have died on US roads. (Reuters/Shaun Best)
By Beverly Beckham
September 11, 2011

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All deaths are tragic. Expected deaths, unexpected deaths, every death stunning, a person alive and full of life, totally vibrant, or down for the count, but breathing still, and here. Body and soul bound together.

And then that person is not here. And we reel from this, every single time.

Horrifying. Shocking. Brutal. Painful. Peaceful. Inevitable. She went too soon. He stayed too long. It shouldn’t have happened. How did it happen?

The ways and the hows of death vary. Someone dies of ALS. Someone dies of old age. Someone is kidnapped and killed. Someone is shot. Someone is crushed by a bicycle rack. Someone takes his own life. And someone is just sitting on a plane or at her desk when the whole world explodes.

Loss is the constant. Loss is what we will talk about today, loss and death, remembering and reflecting, listening to stories and telling our own, focusing on a subject we hardly ever discuss, even when we’re standing in line at a wake or sitting shiva, offering our condolences.

But the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, cannot be ignored. Nearly 3,000 people died that day, murdered as they were going along, living their lives, doing their jobs.

Their deaths changed our world.

Because we, as a country, didn’t just grieve and beat our breasts and say to one another, “Isn’t it awful but what can we do?’’ then resume our normal, unfettered, freedom-drenched lives. We, our government, reacted to the brutal and calculated loss of nearly 3,000 human beings and set into motion, for better or worse, safeguards and constraints that have changed how we live, that have inconvenienced and annoyed us when we travel, but that have protected us for 10 years.

Walls, wars, security, full-body scanners, pat-downs, no-parking zones, steel doors, cameras, dogs.

It’s the new normal, all in the name of never again.

Last week an 80-year-old Raynham man, Martin Newfield, died of the mosquito-borne virus known as EEE. He was healthy and active until a few days after a mosquito bit him.

The community reacted to his death by demanding that the state spray the area for mosquitoes. One man died. One man is enough. Protect us, is what they were saying. The state has yet to spray, but the residents are not backing down.

Three thousand people die and the goal is to never let this happen again. One person dies, and the goal is the same. Because all deaths are tragic.

I went to a concert this summer. In the parking lot, hundreds of people were drinking, drugging, and partying, then driving away in cars. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2007, 41,259 people were killed in car accidents on our nation’s roads, 13,041 of them the result of drunken driving. In 2008, the numbers were 37,261 deaths, 11,773 involving alcohol. In 2009, 33,808 fatalities, 10,839 alcohol-related.

In the past 10 years, more than 400,000 human beings have lost their lives on our country’s roads. Millions have suffered permanent injuries.

People say, “Isn’t it awful?’’ when someone too impaired to be driving enters a highway the wrong way, or slams into a car, or a child on a bike, or a jogger or a woman crossing a street. But then comes the “What can we do?’’ part.

Flying is safer because for 10 years government has made safety a priority and the public has helped with this: If you see something, say something. Driving could be made safer in the same way, with government, law enforcement, the auto industry (with its Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety technology), and the public working together.

A friend says making the roads safe will never be a priority because while few of us would think about blowing up a building, most of us have driven when we shouldn’t have.

But consider this statistic from Mothers Against Drunk Driving: The average drunk driver has driven drunk 87 times before his first arrest.

All deaths are tragic. In my lifetime, there has never been a more tragic day than the one we remember today.

But I remember, too, other days and other people, whose lives were taken in an instant, in the sun, on a spring afternoon, crossing a street, jogging, driving, playing.

Some things you can do nothing about. Some things you can change.

This we can change.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at

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