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One for the Road

Drunk Driving since 1900

Barron H. Lerner

Publication Year: 2011

Don’t drink and drive. It's a deceptively simple rule, but one that is all too often ignored. And while efforts to eliminate drunk driving have been around as long as automobiles, every movement to keep drunks from driving has hit some alarming bumps in the road. Barron H. Lerner narrates the two strong—and vocal—sides to this debate in the United States: those who argue vehemently against drunk driving, and those who believe the problem is exaggerated and overregulated. A public health professor and historian of medicine, Lerner asks why these opposing views exist, examining drunk driving in the context of American beliefs about alcoholism, driving, individualism, and civil liberties. Angry and bereaved activist leaders and advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaign passionately for education and legislation, but even as people continue to be killed, many Americans remain unwilling to take stronger steps to address the problem. Lerner attributes this attitude to Americans’ love of drinking and love of driving, an inadequate public transportation system, the strength of the alcohol lobby, and the enduring backlash against Prohibition of the 1920s. The stories of people killed and maimed by drunk drivers are heartrending, and the country’s routine rejection of reasonable strategies for ending drunk driving is frustratingly inexplicible. This book is a fascinating study of the culture of drunk driving, grassroots and professional efforts to stop it, and a public that has consistently challenged and tested the limits of individual freedom. Why, despite decades and decades of warnings, do people still choose to drive while intoxicated? One for the Road provides crucial historical lessons for understanding the old epidemic of drunk driving and the new epidemic of distracted driving. Praise for Barron H. Lerner’s award-winning When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine "Lerner has done a beautiful job of tracing the degree to which celebrity patients have reflected and shaped the modern American understanding of doctors, patients, and illness."—New England Journal of Medicine "Lerner has created a powerful prism through his thoughtful exploration of celebrity illness, highlighting societal and cultural forces that widely affect public and private health care decisions."—Journal of the American Medical Association "We can learn quite a bit about our society, culture, and values from the way celebrities' illnesses are publicly portrayed . . . Lerner is at his best when he uses his considerable narrative skills to place these stories into their broader historical, cultural, and ethical contexts."—American Journal of Bioethics "In Lerner's capable hands, these dozen stories in their retelling are both colorfully dramatic narratives, ripped from the headlines (as the saying now goes) and also probing samples of historically specific contingencies and shifting attitudes."—Bulletin of the History of Medicine

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Have you ever wondered, after having had a few drinks at a party, how drunk you would have to be to be considered a drunk driver? You might be surprised by the answer. If you have the time and money and are age 21 or over, you might try the following experiment. Go to Amazon.com and purchase a Breathalyzer. One that is not too expensive and has good reviews is the AlcoHAWK Slim model. Before using it, ...

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pp. xv-xvii

I am dedicating this book to those individuals who, having experienced a drunk driving tragedy, subsequently spent parts of their lives trying to make sure this did not happen to other people. My three previous books all featured activists: forcibly detained Skid Row tuberculosis patients who stood up for their rights; women with breast cancer who took on and triumphed over a patronizing male ...

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INTRODUCTION: What’s the Harm?

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pp. 1-13

Readers of the Long Island, New York, section of the June 3, 1984, New York Times had the opportunity to read an opinion piece by Philip B. Linker, an associate professor of English at the local Suffolk County Community College. Linker’s piece, entitled “Drinking and Driving Can Mix,” began with a description of how he had driven home legally drunk the previous Saturday night. He then continued: "I drove home drunk the Saturday before that, and the one before that, in what probably amounts to a fairly consistent pattern over ...

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CHAPTER 1 The Discovery of Drunk Driving

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pp. 14-37

There has probably been drunk driving for as long as there has been driving. Even before the invention of the automobile in the 1890s, the problem of impaired vehicle operators had been publicly discussed. But the rapid multiplication of “horseless carriages” on the roads of America quickly made the question of drunk driving a pressing subject. The identification of a “new” social problem can provide a brief opportunity ...

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CHAPTER 2 Science and Government Enter the Fray

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pp. 38-63

It might sound crude, but it is reasonable to call the 1950s and early 1960s the “golden age of drunk driving.” One person who might have agreed was the New York Yankees’ all-star center fielder Mickey Mantle, who was not only a heavy drinker but thought nothing of driving home after a binge. Like most drunk drivers, he got lucky for a while, but in 1963, a drunken Mantle, speeding at over ...

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CHAPTER 3 The MADD Mothers Take Charge

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pp. 64-92

In thinking about the rise of MADD and drunk driving activism after 1980, it is tempting to ask why no one aside from J. Marse Grant had previously thought about using the tragic stories of victims—particularly children—to attract public attention and further the cause. This question is, of course, ahistorical. Events occur in a particular historical context. It was not until 1980 that the political ...

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CHAPTER 4 The Movement Matures and Splinters

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pp. 93-122

It took decades to generate a meaningful attack on drunk driving in the United States, but maintaining the movement’s energy and reputation in the 1980s and early 1990s was nearly as tall a task. Within five years of its founding, MADD was in turmoil, and neither Cindi Lamb nor Candy Lightner was still involved. Critics charged that the successor group to the President’s Commission, the ...

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CHAPTER 5 Lawyers, Libertarians, and the Liquor Lobby Fight Back

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pp. 123-152

Perhaps the state of the drunk driving movement in the early 1990s was best exemplified by a book published by then MADD president Micky Sadoff in 1991. Get MADD Again, America! reminded readers that while much had been accomplished in the 1980s, mortality rates were still extremely high. The initial decline in annual deaths from 25,000 to 17,000 had occurred between 1980 and ...

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CHAPTER 6 More (and More) Tragedies

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pp. 153-177

Thousands of terrible stories of alcohol-related fatalities had made the newspapers since the 1980s, but even veteran drunk driving activists were stunned to learn about the mid-afternoon July 26, 2009, crash in which a 36-year-old mother drove her minivan 1.7 miles the wrong way on New York’s Taconic Parkway before crashing into an oncoming sport utility vehicle. Diane Schuler killed herself, her 2-year-old-daughter, her ...

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pp. 178-180

This book began by my urging readers to raise their blood alcohol levels to the point at which it would be illegal to drive and then imagine themselves doing so—even though most would be somewhere between “buzzed” and drunk. I then reminded them that as recently as forty years ago, it was possible to drink nearly twice as much as I suggested and still drive legally. Then I explored the myriad historical reasons for these phenomena. They ...


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pp. 181-205


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pp. 207-218

E-ISBN-13: 9781421403496
E-ISBN-10: 1421403498
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421401904
Print-ISBN-10: 1421401908

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 10 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2011