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The Gruesome Cost of Drunk Driving in 'D.W.I.'

December 16, 1987|BILL STEIGERWALD

There are many gruesome scenes of bloodied bodies entangled in their smashed cars in "D.W.I.--Deadliest Weapon in America," an emotionally charged look at the horrible consequences a society suffers when it is too soft on those who drink and drive and kill (7 tonight on KABC-TV Channel 7).

There are also many moments of great sadness, as fathers and husbands and mothers and wives of those killed by drunk drivers are interviewed.

But the hour's single most powerful image is a black-and-white photograph of the broken bikes and empty running shoes of the three boys who were run down and killed in 1981 by a drunken 19-year-old girl.

Those children were among the 250,000 victims of drunk drivers in the last 10 years. Each year 500,000 are injured. Some, such as Kit Pardee, are crippled for life. Her neck was broken when a drunk's car crossed the center line and hit her head-on. The driver--or "murderer," as many would prefer to call him--was fined $100 for driving outside his designated lane.

As "D.W.I" reminds us, car wrecks are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 16 and 25--7,000 a year. Groups such as SADD (Students Against Driving Drunk) and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) have emerged to educate the public and to lobby for tougher laws and stiffer punishments for drunk drivers.

But millions of drunks still ply the highways. Only 1 in 2,000 is pulled over and half of those are on the road the next day, says writer-reporter Collin Siedor in this 1985 production from the Gannett Broadcasting Group.

Rarely indulging in overemotionalizing, "D.W.I." does a pretty good job of proving its scary premise: that no matter how much care you take, you could still become a victim of a drunk driver.

What can society do about the crime of driving while intoxicated?

Police need more men and money to man DWI task forces, says the program, which is somewhat remiss in not addressing the genuine concerns civil libertarians have with such roadblocks.

The justice system also needs more money and people and stiffer sentencing. Teens should be told and retold: Don't drink and drive. And, says "D.W.I.," the media should raise the national consciousness by doing things like announcing weekly highway deaths caused by drunks the way it tolled U.S. battle deaths in Vietnam.

"D.W.I." is flawed by not having included information about how some European countries--many of which have cultures that are more alcohol-permeated than ours--have learned to virtually eliminate the drunk-driving problem. But it offers sobering--and often graphic--visual proof of the high cost of drunk driving.

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