Another drunk driver takes the life of yet another Austinite. It's a headline that has appeared too often in our fun-loving, laid back city — the 2nd safest big city in America according to Police Chief Art Acevedo. This time “Kelly,” the person behind the Twitter handle “@ATXHipsters” and the website ATXHipsters.com, was killed blocks from his home early Saturday morning on the Northbound feeder lane of I-35 near 8th St.
I saw the flashing police lights still there just after 3 a.m. as I left IHOP on my own way home — apparently another drunk driver had crashed into the crime scene. It is such a familiar sight these days it rarely draws a second look, but what I didn't know was that a life had been taken, or that that the person had some integral connection to why I love my city so much. I never met Kelly, but have interacted with him via Twitter. I'm not one to shy away from the “Hipster” label and even though it is never something one dawns on themselves, I appreciated being engaged by someone who clearly had their finger on the pulse of our creative community.
The accident took place barely a month after the tragedy (partially blamed on drunk driving) during SXSW that took several lives, and the same week SXSWcares held a benefit for victims and their families. Community leaders are aware of the problem, but with the explosive growth of our city and an entertainment industry that almost always includes alcohol consumption, it is time for our reflection to incite more action.
If we want people to get out of their cars, we also have to ensure they feel safe doing so. Who wants to take a bike share late at night when someone can't even walk a few blocks home without being killed by a drunk driver? According to a very personal piece in Austin Bloggy Limits, “Kelly hated drunk driving,” and “was known to let people who were too drunk in his bed while he slept on the couch.” The author said Kelly thought, as many of us do, that part of the solution is, “better public transportation in this city.”
Most Millennials agree, according to a survey by Transportation for America:
Four in five millennials say they want to live in places where they have a variety of options to get to jobs, school or daily needs…Three in four say it is likely they will live in a place where they do not need a car to get around. But a majority in all but the largest metros rate their own cities “fair” or “poor” in providing public transportation, and they want more options such as car share and bike share.
Much has been written lately about the drinking culture in Austin, including my own post on this blog. What can be done? Many people including myself believe Travis County's proposed drunk tank is one solution, and that increased public transportation options are another, but one requires the offender to be caught before getting behind the wheel and the other may be years and millions of dollars away.
There is only so much law enforcement can do to solve a problem that is so pervasive and isn't necessarily committed by an underground criminal class, but by otherwise lawful citizens who don't feel there is a viable alternative to getting home without their car. People should know their limits and stop driving drunk — and should have an alternative, safe way home when one drink turns into one too many.
I oppose taking people's blood against their will (i.e. “no refusal” weekends) in what seems like a draconian effort to determine a driver's sobriety or lack there of. On an anecdotal level it is hard to believe in the policy's effectiveness when these tragedies persist — unless it just needs to be applied every weekend. However, something has to be done and to APD's credit they are very limited in solving the root of this social evil.
What it will take is social pressure — remember “friends don't let friends drive drunk?”
That itself is still easier said than done, because friends can't just sleep it off in the car, or take the “Night Owl” service to within walking distance of their home. We need political pressure as well, and I'm glad know many folks taking up this issue. There are individuals, and groups of ordinary citizens who are taking the challenge personally and I hope many more will join us until we have our drinking and driving problem under control.
Here are some steps you can take to reducing drunk driving in Austin:
Vote in November in our City Council elections.
Yes voting matters, because the same folks who max out their campaign contributions and vote religiously are often not the same people wishing the closest bus route to their home ran past “last call.”
As a writer on Austin Bloggy Limits wrote today,
“Right now I want solutions. I don't want band-aid fixes, I don't want to hear all the reasons we can't beef up our infrastructure. I want people getting shit done. Don't ask me how are we going to pay for this infrastructure because so far we're paying for our lack of infrastructure in human blood. How many more of my friends have to die before we get our shit together?” — Austin Bloggy Limits
Help stop the madness, be a part of the solution, and help make the answer to this grieving friend's question “zero.”
You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.