Saturday, September 6, 2014

Under the Influence

I suppose this is as good a time as any to ruminate on the suspension given Colts owner Jim Irsay by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Timing, it is said, is everything. And Irsay's stunk. He had the bad luck to cross the commissioner's radar in the wake of the Ray Rice kerfuffle, and with opening day just a few days away, there was no way Goodell was going to go through that again.

So while Rice was suspended two games for knocking out his intended and dragging her about their hotel by the hair, Irsay was suspended for six and fined half a million dollars because he:

a.) Wore non-approved NFL gear
b.) Let Peyton Manning walk
c.) Drove while intoxicated
d.) Failed to renew his subscription to the NFL Network

If you guessed c, you are correct.

(An exception will be made if you chose b and reside in Indiana.)

OK. Don't get me wrong—driving while tanked is plenty serious. But not exponentially more serious than dragging your girlfriend around by the hair after you've introduced her face to your NFL running back-sized fist.

Furthermore, I am the very last citizen of the United States to come to the defense of the very wealthy, particularly those who did little more than pop out of the right, er well, you know.

But I am suffering from DWI fatigue.

Having re-invented myself a little over a year ago as a bus driver, I now log about eight-hundred miles a week. Which works out to forty-thousand miles a year—give or take a construction detour or two. And let me tell you: I don't see many drunks. (This was true even when I was younger and drove more at night.)

What I do see are lots of distracted drivers. Men, women, adults, teens and in-betweens. They're all over. Like a plague.

I have lost count of the drivers who absentmindedly drift across lane dividers and lane markings into mine. Or who fail to stop at stop signs. Or the mobile Shakespeares so engrossed in composing life-changing texts they don't notice the light has changed from red to green.

They are everywhere. Everyday.

Yes, there was a time when chronic alcoholics who got behind the wheel needed to be reigned in. Needed to be given something besides a cup of joe down at the local PD.

But I am thrilled to report that as a society, we get it. Driving under the influence is a bad thing. In fact, according to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), incidents of drunk driving are half of what they were in 1980.

Despite this, our media, our law-givers and our law enforcers continue to reinforce the impression it is the most-serious crime an individual can commit. It certainly is the highest-profile one.

Which brings me back to Jim and Roger.

Having erred so badly on the Ray Rice case, Goodell followed our lead and used the reliable whipping post of DWI as a public relations tool to erase any doubts that he is, indeed, a tough guy intent on eradicating bad behavior in his NFL.

(At least when he can—players who offend for the first time are only levied a comparatively paltry fine of fifty-thousand dollars.)

It smacks of piling on.

Thirty years on, I wish we'd devote the same resources to distracted driving that we do to driving under the influence. And while we're at it, get manufacturers all-in for the public good.

For instance, I am unable to make an input on the GPS unit in my bus while it is moving. Using motion sensors to similarly disable cell phones, tablets and any other device in a moving car would be a great start.

A car driven by a distracted driver is just as lethal as one driven by a drunk. And sadly, they're far more prevalent. It's time to look up from our screens, recognize it and adjust our policies, enforcement and public awareness accordingly.