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12/11/08 5:55PM By Deborah Luskin
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(HOST) The holidays are supposed to be a time of celebration and good cheer, but commentator Deborah Luskin reminds us to celebrate - responsibly.

(LUSKIN) Call it common sense, or call it neurosis, but automobiles make me anxious. I'm always aware how dangerous cars are as we zoom along. We're often distracted by what's going on both outside our cars and inside our heads. No wonder accidents happen even when the roads are clear and we're sober. We can't do much about the weather - except, maybe, stay home. But there's no reason to drink and drive, and there are lots of reasons not to.

Nationally, someone dies every half hour due to drunk driving; in Vermont, someone dies from drunk driving every seven to ten days. But more than a motor vehicle death takes place: the dead person's family is suddenly and spectacularly immersed in a lifetime of unexpected grief.

I volunteer on a Reparative Justice Panel, where about two thirds of our cases are for DUI. As part of my training, I recently attended the two classes offenders must take after a DUI conviction: CRASH and the Victim Impact Panel.

CRASH is all about alcohol and substance abuse, and some of the consequences of being under the influence. A DUI conviction is just one consequence. Others include huge expenses for fines, court fees and increased insurance premiums, and the significant inconvenience of a suspended license. But CRASH also provides an opportunity to learn from one's mistakes.

CRASH offers hope by giving participants a chance to examine their drinking behavior. It emphasizes responsible drinking: responsible drinkers do not drink and drive. The participants in the class I attended, all admitted they'd driven under the influence before - and gotten away with it. While some will learn from a single DUI and never drink and drive again. others won't.

Repeat offenders must attend a Victim Impact Panel, where people whose lives have been scarred by drunk drivers tell their painful stories of loss. At the panel I attended, a mother recounted in vivid detail the crash that killed her seventeen-year-old son and put her in the hospital for months, leaving her with continuing health problems and $235,000 in medical bills. The drunk driver died on impact. Another speaker thought she'd been lucky to crawl out of her car physically unharmed after a drunk driver forced her off the road. It took several years before she acknowledged the psychological damage she suffered by making something as ordinary and essential as driving a source of persistent anxiety and fear.

The day after the Impact Panel, my oldest daughter embarked on road trip of a few hundred miles. Daylight Savings had ended, so it was dark early, and raining. I called before she left. I urged her to drive in daylight, to drive the speed limit, and to call me when she arrived. There's really nothing I can do to protect her from drunk drivers. I can only hope that everyone who drinks does so responsibly. Responsible drinkers never drink and drive.
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