In 1978, Doris Aitken launched RID (Remove Intoxicated Drivers), the first anti-DWI national organization in the U.S., right here in Schenectady, New York. Since then, Aitken and RID — using all volunteers in the field and no professional fundraisers — have been instrumental in passing dozens of laws relating to drunken driving. See “RID marks 30 years of efforts to combat drunken driving” (Sunday Gazette, Sept. 21, 2008), and the RID milestones page.
The deaths of Scotia residents Karen and Timothy Morris, 17 and 19 (the only Morris children), caused by an intoxicated 22 year old on Dec. 4, 1977, spurred Doris Aitken into action. For three decades, she has relentlessly confronted lawyers, courts, politicians, the media and the alcohol industry in her struggle to reform DWI laws.
This Pit Bull wears lipstick. .. Doris Aitken is over 80 years old, but she is still tenacious and surely still wears lipstick. She called her 2002 memoir, “My Life as a Pit Bull” (several chapters are available here).
As a Schenectady Daily Gazette editorial said yesterday, “Aiken shows that citizen activism works” (Sept. 23, 2008):
“Thirty years ago, drunken driving was seen as a joke. Today it is seen as the serious, life-and-death matter that it is, by most drivers as well as the legal system. No one person or group deserves all the credit for this societal change in attitude, but Schenectady’s Doris Aiken and her RID-USA, the oldest national anti-DWI group, deserve a lot, especially in New York state.”
Through education, consternation and legislation, RID and similar organizations, such as MADD, have helped change the attitude and behavior of millions of Americans, saving lives and preventing accidents. As Robert Carney, the Schenectady County District Attorney, told Doris at the RID 30th anniversary event:
After three decades of ardent advocacy, and Doris Aitken is still passionate and committed. [Last December, the octogenarian started the RID Weblog, where she recently argued "College Presidents wrong on drinking age".] Along with so many others here in Schenectady and across the nation, I tip my hat to Doris Aiken and send her my gratitude and admiration. Today, moreover, I fervently hope that we can somewhere find a focused, articulate and effective advocate like Aiken for an impaired-driving crusade against the similar scourge of Driving While Phoning.
. .. In 1997, The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a study by Toronto researchers, which found that the risk of having an accident is four times greater if the driver is using a cell phone — the same risk as driving at the legal drinking limit. Additional studies have confirmed that finding, with one also equating the reduced reaction times of those engaged in DWP to that of drivers over 70 years of age. Of course, far more people, from every demographic group, drive impaired due to phoning while driving than have ever driven under the influence of alcohol. They do it consistently, 24/7, not just in the evening, after parties, or during holidays. They do it shamelessly, with kids and loved ones in their cars. And, where the phony and ineffective handheld-phone-bans exist, they blatantly engage in DWP in front of law enforcement officers. (see our prior post for more information)
Criminal defense lawyer and Simple Justice blawger Scott Greenfield might believe that some DWI laws go too far, but he is well aware of the importance of the anti-DWI movement and of the analogy to DWP. In the post “the other drunk driver,” he wrote last year: “The same people who will rail with inflammatory rhetoric at the evils of driving drunk will happily cruise in their SUV while talking non-stop on a cellphone.” And, Scott explained back in February:
“First, there is no longer any question that cellphone use while driving is as bad as, if not worse, than drunk driving. It is not merely benign conduct, but conduct that has the potential to kill. Worse yet, it lacks the moral stigma of drunk driving, so that ordinary law-abiding people wouldn’t think twice about chatting away on the cellphone while behind the wheel. It doesn’t make you a bad person.
“For some, the point can be quickly driven home on a policy basis by noting that there is no conversation that someone needs to have so desperately that is worth the life of my child. Until recently, society survived without cellphones. We were not on the verge of crumbling for lack of an opportunity to chat with a friend, or even a client. Are cellphones convenient? Absolutely. Are they worth taking a life? No.”
The f/k/a Gang keeps harping about the dangers of DWP, and the hypocrisy of politicians who pass laws making hands-free DWP legal. See, the comprehensive post “California’s make-believe phone safety law” (June 30, 2008). But, we have neither the focus nor the energy to make it our crusade. DWP needs its own Doris Aiken.
In the blink of an eye, our nation went from having no cellphones to having a population that can’t live or drive without them. Judging by their behavior, a majority of Americans sees no problem at all in turning their vehicles into giant, speeding desks and sofas — used for endless streams of distracting business and social “communication”. And, worse, even when they admit the obvious added risk caused by DWP, they dismiss it as secondary to some presumed right to phone, and they give in to the irresponsible impulse to chat with whomever they choose, whenever they choose.
It’s almost too late. We need a Doris Aiken to educate and embarrass the public and our so-called leaders about the folly of DWP. We need to change hearts and minds, and create an anti-DWP stigma, the way RID and MADD did with drunk driving. It’s almost too late, but I bet Doris Aiken could do it.
p.s. You can pass on this post using the tiny URL: http://tinyurl.com/RID-DWP .