Imagine a headline in the newspaper that said “Arsonist sentenced to 18 months for fatal fire”. Imagine if the accompanying article indicated that this arsonist had been convicted several times before for setting fires that didn’t kill anyone. Imagine if he asked for clemency based on the fact that he didn’t know anyone was home, so the death was an accident. Imagine that he tried to explain his behaviour by saying that he was deeply depressed after losing his job.
How would you react? “String the bastard up!” you might say. But what if you replace “arson” with “drunk driving” and “fire” with “crash”? Will you react the same way? If not, then why not? Because let’s face it, the above story has happened before with drunk drivers, and on many occasions.
For some reason, we as a society have collectively decided that drunk drivers cannot be held fully responsible for the results of their actions, in the way that an arsonist would be. They stand up in court and say things like “I can’t help myself” or “I will never do this again” and “I have made mistakes, but I am a good husband and father” and people cut them slack.
But why? This is something I have wrestled with for a while, and I cannot come up with a good reason for the double-standard. If anyone else has any ideas, let me know. Because for all the outrage and anger and calls for change that I hear after a homicide, I just don’t see the same kind of reaction to drunk drivers. And drunk drivers kill more people than murderers every year in this country. Do you think their dead victims feel better knowing that they were killed by a drunk instead of a robber?