(Source: Associated Press)
It seemed too horrendous even to imagine. But the case of the mother who caused a deadly wrong-way crash while drunk and stoned is part of a disturbing trend: Women in the U.S. are drinking more, and drunken-driving arrests among women are rising rapidly while falling among men.
And some of those women, as in the New York case, are getting behind the wheel with kids in the back.
Men still drink more than women and are responsible for more drunken-driving cases. But the gap is narrowing, and among the reasons cited are that women are feeling greater pressures at work and home, they are driving more, and they are behaving more recklessly.
Image Courtesy: The Associated Press - Graphic shows driving under the influence arrests for men and women for 1998 and 2007; includes alcohol-impaired women drivers involved in fatal crashes
“Younger women feel more empowered, more equal to men, and have been beginning to exhibit the same uninhibited behaviors as men,” said Chris Cochran of the California Office of Traffic Safety.
Another possible reason cited for the rising arrests: Police are less likely to let women off the hook these days.
Nationwide, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs was 28.8 percent higher in 2007 than it was in 1998, while the number of men arrested was 7.5 percent lower, according to FBI figures that cover about 56 percent of the country. (Despite the incomplete sample, Alfred Blumstein, a Carnegie Mellon University criminologist, said the trend probably holds true for the country as a whole.)
In New York’s Westchester County, where Diane Schuler’s crash killed her and seven other people last month, the number of women arrested for drunken driving is up 2 percent this year, and officers said they are noticing more women with children in the back seat.
Schuler’s relatives have denied she was an alcoholic and said they were shocked to learn of her drug and alcohol use before the July 26 crash. The wreck, about 35 miles north of New York City, killed Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter, her three nieces and three men in an oncoming SUV she hit with her minivan. Schuler’s 5-year-old son survived his injuries.
Schuler, a cable company executive, could have had a drinking problem that her family didn’t know about, said Elaine Ducharme, a psychologist in Connecticut who has seen more excessive drinking, overeating, smoking and drug abuse during the recession.
In the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s daughter was stopped by police after she pulled away from a McDonald’s with three of her kids in the car. She pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was sentenced to 18 months of court supervision.
One federal study found that the number of women who reported abusing alcohol (having at least four drinks in a day) rose from 1.5 percent to 2.6 percent over the 10-year period that ended in 2002. For women ages 30 to 44, Schuler’s age group, the number more than doubled, from 1.5 percent to 3.3 percent.
The problem has caught the attention of the federal government. The Transportation Department’s annual crackdown on drunken driving, which begins later this month, will focus on women.
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