Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Efforts to lower alcohol-related traffic fatalities should focus on chronic cases.
Friday, September 13, 2013
Timothy Wellons is not a monster, but he did a monstrous thing on June 12.
He drank three-quarters of a 750 ml bottle of vodka, got into his red Ford Taurus and sped down Interstate 581, weaving erratically, tailgating, eventually sideswiping a tractor-trailer and sending it across the median into a head-on collision with another 18-wheeler.
The explosion killed both truckers in a horrific explosion and fire. Flames shot 40 feet into the air, and a plume of black smoke rose high over I-581, a dread signal of disaster. How many people in the Roanoke Valley sent up a quiet plea that afternoon that no one they loved was involved in whatever that smoke meant?
Wellons should not have been behind the wheel of a car that day. In the world of anti-drunken driving advocacy, he fits the definition of a hard-core drunk. Efforts to lower alcohol-related traffic fatalities would yield the greatest benefit to society if they were directed at drinkers like him.
Instead, the National Transportation Safety Board is trying to get states to lower their BAC rates to 0.05, from 0.08, as a strategy to reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities on the nation’s highways. Other industrialized nations that have done so have seen a decline in deaths.
The NTSB’s energies would be better spent on strategies to keep the Timothy Wellonses off the road.
Wellons’ blood alcohol content level measured 0.34 to 0.35 percent an hour after the fatal accident he caused. A level high enough to put the average person in a coma.
Last week, he pleaded no contest to two counts of aggravated involuntary manslaughter and two other charges, including driving under the influence. The DUI was not his first. He also had been charged in 2002.
His lawyer says Wellons has a long history of alcohol problems. His parents asked the judge to release him on bond to an alcohol rehabilitation facility, and offered to put up their home as collateral. Dozens of his family members and friends appeared in court to show their support.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that in 2011, 70 percent of drivers involved in drunken driving fatalities had a BAC of 0.15 or higher.
The NTSB’s interest in lowering the legal limit to 0.05 is not without reason, though. Tests in controlled situations show the risk of crashes goes up sharply when blood alcohol exceeds that level. But then, the risk increases from lack of sleep, listening to the radio, engaging in conversation.
A BAC level set so low would criminalize behavior that is far from wanton disregard for others’ lives. The same amount of alcohol affects people differently. Light drinkers would fear having a glass of wine.
The far greater danger from hard-core drunks would be unaffected. They present a far harder problem, and the one crying to be solved.
Weather JournalNext system: Possible ice/snow Sat.