June 2014

As summer approaches and with it, an increase in highway and bridge work, we need to think again about improving workzone safety, something that continues to be a problem across this country. Specifically, we (or rather, our elected officials and judges) need to reassess or reset how we look at handling addictive substances and the terrible consequences they cause on the roads. I’m not talking about marijuana or heroin or even legal prescription painkillers — rather, it is the increasingly hypocritical handling of the two most widely used and legal addictive substances, alcohol and nicotine.

The legislative trend for some time now has been to disallow smoking in just about every location. It’s even a business trend as some grocery stores and pharmacies have ceased selling cigarettes. And, some cities are even proposing legislation that will preclude anyone from using e-cigarettes in bars, restaurants and other public places. We’re talking about vapor here, but it’s part and parcel to the growing practice of treating nicotine in a Prohibition kind of way. But alcohol? Well, that’s different.

Yes, we have a lot of DUI laws and penalties. People aren’t supposed to drink and drive, but they do, all the time, still. Do the penalties for DUI need to be stiffer, more severe? Should just a one-time offense result in a lifetime ban from driving? That may sound way too harsh, but it can take just one time of drinking and driving to cause the death or serious injury of someone. Let the stats tell the story: According to the CDC, every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion. Frankly put, should a highway worker, who is doing good and important work for this country and just trying to support his or her family, die on the job because someone thought it was OK to get behind the wheel while drunk, because they didn’t care?

There’s no doubt that smoking is bad and of course it would be wonderful if that addiction could be eradicated for everyone. But we need to prioritize what’s really important here and what will save more innocent lives. Put it this way (and the legislators all across the country need to put it this way): If we’re working on the side of a road while cars and trucks are whizzing by, what, if we had a choice, would we rather these drivers be doing — smoking while driving or drinking while driving?

You can also view previous issues of Superintendent's Profile.