This week, we lost a student to what appears to be a drunken-driving accident. Heather Ann Dowd was only 21 when she died. Although I didn't know her, Heather's death really affected me. Maybe it's because I'm 21, too, and it scares me that someone the same age was so suddenly killed. The saddest thing is that Heather really didn't have to die ü she could have gone on to graduate and fulfill all her dreams, if not for one individual who took her life from her.
That's what makes drunken drivers so distasteful to me ü they never give any thought to the fact that other people's lives are at stake when they get behind the wheel. With arrogance and utter foolishness, drunken drivers think that they can "handle it," and then turn the key. They never know if they're going to hit someone, and, obviously, they don't care. Living in denial and thinking that they could never cause death is no justification for driving drunk.
Drunken drivers strike indiscriminately and rob people of life in a way that's different from the means of other killers. Their murders are absolute freak happenings ü it could have been me or you in that car instead of Heather ü and that's what's frightening.
Someone was going to die that night, it just happened to be Heather. Those who drive under the influence are playing Russian roulette with other people's lives and we shouldn't have to be "lucky" enough to escape the weapons that they and their cars become.
We are so well-informed about alcohol and its effects on perception that it's an absolute tragedy that anyone would try and drive drunk. Our foreknowledge is what makes the crime into something more than a mere violation or accident ü it makes the victim's death senseless and it makes the driver into a murderer. I don't care how "sorry" the driver says he or she is afterwards ü that individual should be severely punished for their arrogance and carelessness. Maybe they should have been smart first instead of being "sorry" later.
I don't think our penalties against drunken drivers are nearly stiff enough. People don't consider the consequences of driving drunk as much of a deterrent obviously, or they wouldn't dare to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Operating a motor vehicle while drunk is the same thing as premeditated murder, as far as I'm concerned. If it were on the ballot, I would vote to put drunken drivers who kill on death row. Being fined and losing a license doesn't seem to stop this behavior; maybe something a little more harsh would. Hard jail time or a death sentence should be imposed, especially in the cases of repeat offenders. For Pete's sake, if you are stupid enough to get into a car drunk once, that's bad enough. To do it twice or habitually underlines that you really don't care whether you kill someone or not. And we have to get people like that off of the streets. After all, a drunk individual always has the option of calling a cab. Some taxis are even free now, thanks to programs that hope to eliminate drunken driving. If you don't have the brains to get the key out of the ignition and call someone for a ride, you deserve to be whacked on the head and tossed in jail.
Sounds harsh? Yup. Maybe I feel this way for a selfish reason. I don't want to die and I don't want to have to identify the body of a loved one who was killed by a drunken driver. People should not have to suffer for the asinine mistakes of others.
Unfortunately, stiff penalty looks to be the only way to possibly control drunken drivers, since awareness programs seem to have fallen on deaf ears. I guess it all comes down to how much we value our own lives and those of our fellow man. If we don't start getting drunken drivers off of the street, the next time someone gets killed, it may be you.
To Heather's family and friends, I extend my deepest sympathy . she'll always be alive in your hearts.
Denise R. Frank is a senior English major and a columnist for the Arizona Daily Wildcat. Her column appears every other Friday.
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