It was two years ago today when a 36-year-old mother, Diane Schuler, drove the wrong way down the very busy Taconic State Parkway in New York and collided head-on with an SUV.
This day, this collision alone, ended with eight people dead -- four of them children -- and two seriously injured.
There are still many unanswered questions to an event that should never have happened and that shocked all who heard about the senseless loss of life. This awful scenario included young children dead during a summer family camping trip that so quickly turned into a nightmare and a mother who, according to the police, drove a packed car with a blood alcohol level of .19, over twice the legal limit of .08, and had also smoked weed before getting behind the wheel.
Now I must point out that Shuler's family and friends deny that she was a problem drinker, and a gas station employee claimed that Shuler seemed fine shortly before the accident. If she was driving drunk, however, she unfortunately has a growing amount of company: female drunk drivers are on the rise, and it is a steady and aggressive increase. DWI arrests of female drivers have astronomically increased from 7.5% in 1998 to 28.8% in 2007.
Since leaving Congress, I have served as chairman of the Century Council, a national, not-for-profit organization funded by many of our nation's distillers, dedicated to eliminating drunken driving and underage drinking. We have embarked on a study that reveals a very disturbing trend regarding women and impaired driving that we ignore at our own peril. Clearly more research needs to be done to understand why this increase is happening and how we can quickly stem it. Are more females drinking more, or are females driving more? Regardless of the reason, our message is simple: Do not drive drunk.
If you feel like you have had too much to drink at the end of a night, reach for your cellphone instead of your keys, and call a friend or call a cab. If you see a friend in the same situation, do not let them drive. The tragedy that occurred on the Taconic State Parkway in July 2009 was horrific. Nothing will ever be able to bring back the lives that were lost that day. The crash should serve as a reminder that we all have a hand in stopping the devastating consequences of this behavior. The solution to these tragic situations rests on our shoulders.
Organizations like The Century Council are leading the way to research trends, like the uptick in female DWI arrests, and working to spread the message about the dangers of drunken driving. I would encourage each and every one of you to get involved with this issue.
Susan Molinari, a former Member of Congress from New York, is currently the Chairman of The Century Council, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting drunk driving and underage drinking. www.centurycouncil.org; www.twitter.com/centurycouncil; www.facebook.com/centurycouncil