A recent traffic fatality on a two-lane stretch of highway in Prince George County has stoked the fire of an ongoing battle at the intersection of legal, emotional and moral.
This was a highly emotional incident on many fronts, but the two that stick out the most are 1) the victim was a teenager; and 2) the driver of the pick-up that hit the teenager’s car blew a blood-alcohol level exceeding .20 percent. That is more than twice the recognized .08-percent BAL in Virginia and several other states across the country.
To add even more magnification to this story, consider that someone with a .20-percent BAL cannot even walk, much less drive. That person is only an eyelash away from the recognized level for alcohol poisoning and a head-hair away from drinking one’s self to death.
The driver of that pick-up truck has been charged with aggravated involuntary manslaughter. He also got a ticket for drunk driving.
Social media went nuts over that. Not just for the fact that the guy reportedly got behind the wheel in such a state, but the fact that someone actually let him get behind the wheel in such a state.
There has been widespread speculation about where this suspect had gone to and drank so heavily, and I am not going to fuel any more of that by repeating it. But I will say that for those of you who think the so-called host of said party should also be held liable, I say to you that you’re right.
And you’re also wrong.
Sure, there is the moral obligation to hide the keys of someone in such a highly altered condition. So you are right there.
But you’re also wrong because in Virginia and 13 other states across the country, it is not against the law for someone to offer guests all kinds of booze and still be able to kiss them goodbye at the end of the night. The legal obligation is called a “social-host” law, and it is not part of the Code of Virginia, like it or not.
You know that old saying about, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” That about sums it up with this situation. Essentially someone can get a whole linen department amount of sheets to the wind at a private residence or private event. But the provider’s legal obligation does not extend to keeping that person off the road.
Moral obligation, maybe. But not legal.
And that is what makes people even more upset.
When someone dies needlessly, it’s human nature to look for answers to why. And when you find one of those answers, you start to look for reasons why that answer needs to answer for their sins. And when you find out the law cannot touch them, you get even more angry.
Add in the anger that parents feel at the loss of their child or the kids feel at the loss of a sibling or schoolmate or close friend, or even a boyfriend/girlfriend, and the fuse gets that much shorter and the powder inside that powder keg gets that much more flammable.
Will Virginia or any of the other 13 states who do not carry a social-host law on their books ever see the need to enact one? I don’t know. It just depends upon the amount of political influence that issue can pick up along the road.
But until we go down that road, we can’t keep those who think they can drive regardless of their intoxication off the real road.
People can complain until they are blue in the face about the dangers of a specific intersection. But it is only until after someone gets killed at that intersection does some kind of traffic light go up.
The crossroads we are at with this issue right now is going to require one heck of a stop light.
By Bill Atkinson
Bill Atkinson is assistant editor and political columnist at The Progress-Index. Reach him at 804-722-5167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.