“Six times over the limit.” Forgive my rage, but reading that phrase this week prompted feelings painfully close to home.
As a journalist, I’m well used to handling the spectrum of all that’s newsworthy, every day. Whether it’s school dinner stories or breaking news; seagull rants or sports reports… It’s all there, and I love every inch of it.
But then, of course, there’s the hard stuff.
Sometimes you get the unique honour of capturing a rare moment of justice served. But sometimes, like this week, you find yourself so incredulous it’s almost hard to breathe.
And, so, here I am: out of breath and (almost) out of words, not being able to believe what I’m seeing.
Because four times this week already, I’ve been smacked in the face with drink driver headlines. And extreme ones at that.
Painful reality for my family
See, for me and mine, it’s personal. Let me run you through some numbers.
Forty. That was the big birthday I drove to Glasgow for to celebrate with my kids.
11:50. That was the time my phone rang that same night, 833 days ago. It was my husband crying – no, wailing – telling me his sister and her daughter had been in a serious accident.
Fifteen was the number of minutes I sat in stunned silence next to my sleeping sons, wondering how I was going to tell them their cousin had been killed and their aunt was fighting for her life.
Four. That’s how many times over the legal blood alcohol level the other driver was when he also broke the speed limit and ploughed into my sister-in-law’s car. By Scottish standards, he would have been more than six times over.
And 7,655 is how many days my 20-year-old niece was on this planet for before a remorseless man thought it would be funny to drive his car too fast, too drunk and without insurance around a town centre.
Nine, is how many years he was jailed for. And it’s yet to be determined the number he’ll actually serve.
With a toddler at home, we watched my sister-in-law fight back from a broken pelvis, crushed sternum, shattered bones and internal bleeding. Only to then wake up in a hospital miles from home to be told by a stranger that her daughter had been killed.
She had to learn to walk again while learning to live without a child.
She had to comfort her sons, partner and baby daughter while giving statement upon statement to police.
On what would have been Darcy’s 21st birthday, my sister-in-law needed a walking frame to place balloons on her grave. It hurts me to even write about it.
And instead of making favours and flower arrangements for her wedding, I was adding finishing touches at her funeral.
We can’t determine our own limits
For all those drunk drivers who manage to get to court without killing someone: that’s just luck.
The same audacious selfishness occurred, whether a life was taken or not. And, quite simply, it disgusts me.
I can’t bring myself to even call these things accidents. It’s a deliberate act to get behind the wheel of a car knowing you’ve consumed alcohol.
I have a lot of compassion for those among us struggling with addiction.
I was relieved that one half of my favourite Geordie double act didn’t kill anyone when, at crisis point, he drove when he shouldn’t have. But, just because the vast majority don’t irreparably tear apart families, doesn’t mean we should be any less furious.
Any fool knows that a pint on an empty stomach and one after dinner will hit different.
So, with that many variable factors, we surely know we can’t determine our own limitations. That’s what the law is there for.
Why don’t we just agree to either drink (any amount) and not drive, or drive and not drink?
Why would you risk it?
I really don’t get why it’s such a weighty choice.
Take you, Mr Six-times-over. Why? Why would you play human roulette? Why would you place no value on your own life, and even less on others?
I struggle to understand it. And I’m angry this scenario is repeated time and again. We need to do better.
If seized cars and sizeable fines don’t change it, then maybe me reliving my family’s collective agony and calling out this for the despicable crime – committed by uncaring, reckless individuals – that it is will edge us nearer to seeing headlines about drunk drivers disappear for good.
Lindsay Bruce is a journalist, author and speaker