Editorial: Let’s start with youth to curb drunken driving

Winston-Salem Journal

It is a sad reality that for some families, this season of joy will be marred by the tragedy of losing loved ones to drunken driving.

A drunken driver is charged in the death of Nancy Gosnell of Winston-Salem, 79, who was killed in a collision while on her way home from a Christmas play at a church Sunday night, the Journal’s Wesley Young reported earlier this week.

Two others in the car in which she was riding were reported to be in the hospital, one in serious condition.

The driver of the other vehicle, Jennifer Wilson of Germanton, 29, was charged with driving while impaired, driving left of center and careless and reckless driving.

This is all the more tragic because of the association with the holidays that will forever remain for the relatives of those involved.

Gosnell’s death is heartbreaking and its cause is outrageous. But perhaps there’s some hope that drunken drivers who cause deadly accidents can be reached sooner.

It’s timely that Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill’s office is working with an Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission program, “Talk It Out NC,” to create a diversion program that will give teens and young adults convicted of underage drinking an opportunity to have charges dropped and their records expunged.

Luther Snyder, the executive director of the initiative, said the program is design to curb underage drinking, reduce recidivism and raise awareness on the dangers of underage drinking, the Journal’s Arika Herron reported.

“It’s a real problem here in North Carolina,” Snyder told the Journal. “We’re not just talking about dollars and cents, but about lives lost to underage drinking.”

“This is not about punishment,” O’Neill told the Journal. “We’re not trying to ruin young lives. We’re trying to educate and give people a second chance.”

In the program, those charged with underage drinking will be required to perform 10 hours of community service, complete an underage drinking education program, visit the county’s Evidence Holdover Lot to see vehicles damaged in drunken-driving cases and attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving meeting. If they do so, the charges will be dismissed and they can apply to have their records expunged.

Those charged with underage drinking and driving will have it harder: They’ll be required to complete 50 hours of community service, take the “Alive at 25” driving course and go through an assessment for drug and alcohol problems, among other problems.

The program will also require parental education about the dangers of underage drinking.

This program is a good effort that we hope will be effective in helping young people overcome their mistakes and turn their lives around. It could help to avert further incidents like the one Sunday night.

Maybe if such a program had existed for Jennifer Wilson, Nancy Gosnell’s life would have been spared.

Some in our society are casual and forgiving of underage drinking. They almost consider it a rite of passage. But we can’t take underage drinking lightly. It can come with a cost that is too high for families to pay.

There’s no do-over for a death caused by drunken driving. There’s only the agony of the survivors, including, too often, the drunken drivers. We need to do everything we can to keep our young people from being a part of those tragedies.

Source: http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-let-s-start-with-youth-to-curb-drunken-driving/article_bbd8a508-8b7e-11e4-8fac-6706024d7a05.html