More than a generation ago social mores about drunken driving began to change. No more "boys will be boys," or "oh, she just had a few too many and tried to drive home."
We took a new look at the maiming and killing caused by drunken drivers. We stopped passing off collisions off as "accidents."
Even in Alaska, with its hard-drinking history, people began to see drunken driving for what it was -- reckless endangerment at best, murder at worst.
Over time our penalties for drunken driving began to reflect our clear view of drunken driving as a criminal act. That's how the community of Anchorage -- and the law -- is looking at the deaths last week of Brooke McPheters and Jordyn Durr, two 15-year-old girls killed by an alleged drunken driver, and the June 30 crash that killed Citari Townes-Sweatt, 20, at an Anchorage intersection.
The chart below shows current mandatory penalties for misdemeanor DUI (driving under the influence) convictions in Alaska.
Third-time offenders may be charged with felony offenses if the third offense is within 10 years of their previous offense.
Not all the penalties are uniformly imposed. Jail time can sometimes be served outside jail with ankle bracelet monitoring. License revocations can be appealed and restricted driving privileges restored. Those who do go to jail for longer periods can sometimes get up to a third of their sentence off for good behavior.
But these penalties are more than wrist slaps. As both deterrents and debts to society they are and should be strong. But are they effective? Should we stiffen penalties further? Should jail time be without parole or time off for good behavior? Should first offenders get a tougher wake-up call? More jail time, longer loss of license or forfeiture of vehicle? What are the ramifications of such penalties?
Anchorage police have launched a program begun to reinforce drunken driving patrols with civilian volunteers cruising the streets to report erratic driving. The idea there is to catch drunken drivers before they hurt someone -- and, if the program increases arrests and convictions, strengthen deterrence.
What about evaluation and treatment? Many Alaskans argue that we fall woefully short both in jail and out in the programs we offer to those mired in substance abuse -- and that we pay dearly for it in more drunken driving, domestic abuse and sexual assault. Courts can order treatment, but how long are the waiting lists?
We're looking for answers, as many Alaskans have been doing for decades. Clearly, there are no simple solutions. Addiction and a host of other destructive actions can't be made to disappear by law, policy or education. But we can make progress, as we did with the change of attitudes about drunken driving.
Such change won't happen by itself. We invite you to participate with your thoughts on how to stop drunken driving to email@example.com and online in response to this editorial as part of a wider effort by the Daily News and many others to fight alcohol abuse in Alaska.
BOTTOM LINE: What more can we do to keep drunken drivers off of our roads?