Lyndsay Murray-Mazany, a 28 year old bartender well versed with the perils of drinking and driving by virtue of her profession, chose to get behind the wheel while returning to San Francisco from wine tastings in Dry Creek Valley and Geyserville in Sonoma County on July 18 this year. The result was an accident that killed two people and injured three others, all of whom were elderly. Murray-Mazany and her three passengers escaped without any injury except that of immense guilt for self-impairing her good sense of judgment.
The Sonoma County Superior Court sentenced her last week to three years and eight months in prison despite appeals from those present in the court and even some of the victims’ family members to grant Murray-Mazany probation instead. This was a relatively lenient sentence since her offences could have landed her a 20 year jail sentence.
While the U.S. and other countries have strict laws in place against drunk driving, the Indian Government’s stance on the issue is somewhat confusing and hypocritical. It would perhaps make TV headlines when someone is arrested for drunken driving under the influence of liquor but the judicial process is extremely tardy. One would never dream of a decision in less than five months.
With regards to punishments for drunk driving, The Delhi Traffic Police website indicates that anyone found driving under the influence shall be:-
• Punished for the first offence with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 6 months or a fine up to Rs.2,000/- or both, and
• For a subsequent offence committed within 3 years of the previous offence, with imprisonment which may extend to 2 years or fine up to Rs.3,000/- or both.
In a country where 60-65% of road accidents are a result of alcohol, shouldn’t the punishment be much harsher at the onset? And one wonders how many drivers are tested for alcohol and how many are actually arrested and prosecuted. Moreover, if there was a system of fast track courts, the justice can be more equitable and the menace of drunken driving could be much better controlled.
It is a known fact that seldom does a slightly inebriated person doubt his/her ability to operate a motor vehicle. And if wine is involved, it may not even be obvious to another person. In the case of Murray-Mazany, not only did she or the people with her didn’t think she had too much to drink, but even the paramedic and California Highway Patrol Officer didn’t think she was visibly intoxicated. However, on testing her blood alcohol level at the crash site was 0.10 percent. A driver is considered legally intoxicated at 0.08 percent. There are countries where the tolerant level is as low as 0.05 percent
Whether wine should be classified as liquor is often debated; however, the simple fact is that it does contain some alcohol. Its effects may not be visibly apparent, but in excess it definitely can raise one’s BAC (blood alcohol content) to levels that could unknowingly impair one’s senses. This lack of surety of intoxication puts an added responsibility on the drinker– of knowing one’s own safe level.
Many wine drinkers may be under the false notion that they can safely have a few glasses of wine or whisky with dinner or a party and drive home. However, that may or may not be the case depending upon factors such as gender, age, and metabolism. According to a study, two average glasses of wine may suit a small lady just fine, but two large ones could threaten both her and others’ safety if she were put behind the wheel. For a bigger sized person, the safe amount could be different.
The only indisputably safe level is zero. As drinking wine in excess does constitute drunk driving, it is the responsibility of the wine consumer to drink responsibly or better yet, have a designated driver. Only then, we can ensure that a toast to good spirits shouldn’t turn into a toast to death.
Rishi Vohra is the California Correspondent for DelWine and is a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) from the Society of Wine Educators, USA. He has done MBA in Sustainable Business from San Francisco State University and a Masters Diploma in Environmental Law from WWF-India. Vohra is based in Berkeley and often visits Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries-editor