It was a glorious Sunday morning as I drove east on route 80, heading for a lox and bagel platter at one of my favorite diners. What should have been a 20 minute drive was already 30 minutes.
Then I saw the sign that explained the tie-up: Two left lanes closed ahead. Men at work. Well, one of those sentences was correct -- the part about two lanes being closed, but the other sentence was an out and out lie. It was Sunday. No men were working. Someone had either put those orange cones up in preparation for Monday morning, or had forgotten to remove them Saturday.
Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for repairs that diligent New Jersey Department of Transportation workers do year round. Snow and ice play havoc on our roads, leaving huge pot holes that the DOT is always quick to repair. What I resent is the inconsiderate, unnecessary way in which they tie up traffic. Merges appear miles and miles ahead of the work site, causing lengthy delays, and angering drivers. I realize that drivers need sufficient warning to avoid injuring workers, but three miles in advance is beyond cautious.
So, there I was, muttering obscenities for foolishly taking this road when the longer route would have had me to my destination already, when a bright red van appeared on my left, signaling for permission to merge in front of me.
Once he was there, I couldn't avoid reading the two enormous signs on the back doors of his van. The one on the right was a gigantic head-shot of an attractive young woman, with her name under the photo. The sign on the left door said, "A Drunk Driver Killed My Niece." The words were black, except for the word "Killed," which was red.
The irritating traffic tie-up was no longer an issue. All I could think was that a senseless killing had occurred; the dreams, passions, plans and future of that lovely woman had been snuffed out, and her loved ones were made to endure the excruciating sorrow and rage that come with that kind of loss.
I thought the killer's photo should have been there also. He deserved limitless grief and humiliation. He hadn't just destroyed one family's dreams. He'd ruined his own, and his family's, too.
Why is it that virtually every driver who gets behind the wheel after downing several drinks, insists he is not impaired, and is capable of driving responsibly? Many are highly regarded business people who look down on those who drive while under the influence. On some level they believe that the three martinis they downed at lunch while sealing a deal with a client, are less potent than the vodka some drunk is brown bagging.
I don't know who the killer was; if he was an alcoholic who regularly took chances behind the wheel after drinking, or if he was a new driver -- a kid -- who didn't yet fully understand the consequences of drinking and then operating a two ton weapon.
Drinking, in and of itself, is not the problem. Driving after drinking is what kills. In some states, if you are pulled over and fail the breathalyzer test, you are required to have an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. You must breathe into it before turning the key. The car won't start if you are over the legal limit. If you've tied one on the night before, and are preparing to go to work the next morning, odds are the alcohol will still be in your system, so don't be surprised if you are unable to start your car.
If you enjoy drinking, and are genuinely interested in driving responsibly, you can purchase a pocket sized breathalyzer for around ten dollars. You breathe into it before turning the ignition, and it will let you know if you've exceeded the safe drinking limit for driving. If you haven't, then it is your responsibility to find another way home rather than trying to convince everyone, including yourself, that you're capable of driving.
Every day we read about tragedies that result from people driving while under the influence. As long as you continue to believe your reflexes have not been impaired after just three drinks, and you can drive safely, everyone on the road is in danger. It only takes a nano-second for lives to change forever.
Traffic had thinned out. I still looked forward to that lox and bagel platter, but it would be a long while before thoughts of that lovely young girl and the irresponsible drinker who murdered her, would diminish.