Jul 25, 2011

How to Stop a Drunk Driver

There's nothing like being bitten and accused of assault to cap off a great day at FolkFest.

It's 10:30 pm, Alpha YaYa's music is still floating across the farm, and we and our tired children are with a group of folkfest leavers waiting for the shuttle. A very drunk, disoriented woman bumbles through us, muttering this and that, then leans against a car still talking to herself. Still we wait.

Then suddenly, somehow, the woman has keys and has managed to open the car door, is getting in, and the crowd all watches and wonders what to do. My brave wife knows - she defies the group bystander effect (the more people present, the less likely anyone will do anything to help) and leans against the door to keep it open as she asks the woman how much she's had to drink.

"Tourist bitch!" the woman shouts, trying to shut the door, trying to push my wife away. I put my sleepy child down on the long grass and move in to help. She's somehow managed to start the car, so I lean across to turn it off while Sarah tries to hold her down. CRUNCH, the woman's teeth bear down into Sarah's bare forearm.

Now I'm 3/4 into the car, holding her down by the shoulders and arms, careful not to get bitten or kicked, all with one arm while trying unsuccessfully to remove the car keys with the other. She's punching and trying to hurt me, swearing, then screaming that I'm assaulting her. I'm summoning my calmest, most compassionate energy to try to communicate that I'm just trying to get the keys to keep her safe, but her ears have drowned in the empty gin bottle on the passenger seat.

I do feel calm. I've done this before. Too many times, trying to get the keys from my dad. Borrowing the truck and not returning it until a binge is over. Convincing the doctor to have his license suspended. Letting the air out of all tires and putting a new steering wheel lock (which still didn't stop him). At least this time I don't have to maintain a relationship with this woman; don't have to weigh the relative importance of possibly damaging a father-son trust with possibly killing an innocent child.

For Sarah, that's the turning point, the motivation to step out of the paralyzed crowd and take action - innocent children. Our own children right with us; other children and families on those streets she was about to swerve onto. Mama Bear on board, and teeth or no teeth that woman isn't going to kill anyone's children on her watch.

At long last security arrives and we can attend to our own terrified, crying children. For days we'll be trying to explain the dangerous effects of alcohol, the importance of citizens stepping up to responsibility, the good fortune that we were never much in danger (unless she'd managed to get it into gear.)

They've just witnessed their first act of true violence - violence against their own parents and, from the drunk woman's perspective, perpetuated by their own parents. I hope it will be seared into their souls not as a moment of violence or fear, but as a necessary act of compassionate force, motivated and tempered by a love for children, for their grandfather, and for a sick woman who for at least one night was kept from harm.

PS - just to be really clear, I didn't show any bravery in supporting my wife and subduing a much-weaker person. It was my wife taking the risk by stepping out of the crowd to initiate the action. Here's what she wrote about it on her MamaRenew blog


  1. I was hit by a drunk driver in 1991 when I was 18. I've gone through years of operations since then, 16 in total.

    I applaud your wife's and your actions in trying to keep this woman off the road! You very well may have saved lives or saved families from years long suffering.

  2. I'm proud to know you and Sarah. Your children are going to tell their children about this one day.

  3. I hope that, if I were in the same situation I would find the courage to do what you and your wife did!!

  4. Its nice to know there are good people in this world like you guys to help make this world a better place for our kiddos!

  5. Wow. This sounds like a terrifying but important confrontation. Thank you for writing about it. I hope it inspires others to defy the group bystander effect in the future, too.

  6. Most DUI drivers are abusive especially if they had serious problems that had gone through. Drinking is their outlet to forget temporarily. But driving under DUI is not a good thing nor the right way to do. The worst thing will happen if we cause an accident due to reckless driving. DUI lawyers are willing to help and give advices on this issues.

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    Sydney Drink & Drug Driving lawyers
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    Sydney NSW 2000
    (02)9283 8622

  7. Truly said different type of rules are applied in different countries for DUI according to the law. But if a person is indulged in any case like DUI, fraud, alcohol case etc the criminal lawyers help their clients solving the client's cases.
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  8. Tough, I know. But at some point, you really have to reign in all these pesky drunken driving, one way or another. We've got laws to uphold, and people to protect. It is our civic duty to keep the roads open and safe for motorists everywhere, and to make certain that those accidents can be avoided.

    Kim Hunter

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  11. That message is powerful, but unfortunately not enough to reduce or, at the very least, diminish a significant percentage in cases of drunk driving. While these drunk drivers could see the apparent lawful concerns of this crime, it seems that they fail to comprehend the possible life-changing outcome on the end of the victim. I guess one of the best ways to prevent these cases from escalating is for victims to step up and seek justice. By taking action, each of them are keeping drunk drivers off the road one at a time. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Roman Barnes @ J & J Law

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  13. If only everyone is disciplined with regard to following traffic rules, then the occurrence of road accidents will lessen. Alcohol can really be dangerous, especially if you abuse its use. I’m just glad that you and your wife handled the situation in a respectable manner. Thanks for sharing your experience, Rick! Kudos and all the best to you!

    Jerry Brady @ Lambert And Williams

  14. That’s quite a harsh statement but one can’t neglect the truth. I think things like this will send right message to drunk drivers. When I worked with a Los Angeles DUI lawyer, I saw lives of so many people getting ruined due to no fault of theirs. I really think we need to spread more awareness among people for drunk driving.

  15. You and your wife are heroes! Plain and simple. You nailed the description perfectly when you state the bystander effect. It’s true. I am guilty of it many times myself. I’ve never really had the guts – or courage – to do what you and your wife did. I hope later when this woman was in a more sober state, she realized that you saved her life, and saved the lives of others.

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