Friday, May 05, 2006

The Kennedy crash and DUI reform

I'll never forgot my first experience with a chemically impaired driver. I was 5 and my mom and I were driving through a McDonald's parking lot on our way to the drive-thru when a shady, white van came out of nowhere and almost killed us. Remember the JC Penny parking lot scene in Back To The Future? It was like that. There'd be no happy meal for young Sage that day: after the shady man behind the wheel hurled garbled expletives in our direction, we headed for the King.

An anonymous hostess at capitol Hill tavern the Hawk & Dove is claiming she saw U.S. Rep Pat Kennedy drinking a few hours before crashing his car into a concrete barrier near the Congressional offices early Thursday morning. Kennedy has claimed disorientation from a combination of prescribed medicines Phenergan and Ambien.

Assuming Kennedy was not drinking before the crash, the incident highlights a glaring problem in current DUI legislation. According to my sources in the addiction recovery field, there is no current statute defining impairment for those under the influence of prescription drugs while driving. "Technically," my source says, "it was legal for Kennedy to drive on those meds, and that is wrong."

Given Kennedy's state, a field test should have been given regardless of the reasons behind his impairment. "If a field test had been given," my source says, "and if he failed the field test, no matter what he was taking, he could be charged for reckless endangerment or driving while impaired."

If Rep. Kennedy has half the political savvy of his uncles, he'll consider championing a grassroots movement to more clearly define medically induced impairment. This may not be a federal issue (DUIs are state charges and the specifics in DC may differ), but he could still make positive hay of this brush with the family legacy. The need for reform is clear and a little face time from Pat might go a long way for everyone concerned.

If Kennedy was drinking beforehand, that's another can of worms. Both he and the Hill police admit there was no field sobriety test given. is speculating about special treatment. CBS, you're so cute.


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