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Drunk? Don't Drive!Drunk Don't Drive

For many, the annual Songkran, a traditional family fun holiday ends up as a time of tragedy. In 2001, the Emergency Room in Chiangmai's Suan Dork Hospital reported an average of 7 deaths per day. Tragic indeed that the lives of these were young men ranging from high school age to mid 20's were ended. They leave behind parents and young wives with young children. Even more tragic is the report that 3 times this number were young men who ended the holiday celebration as maimed or as paraplegics.

Representatives of nine Chiangmai service clubs are taking the initiative to educate the public to accept this problem as the responsibility of each citizen to alleviate this tragedy that occurs every holiday season. Ironically, the funds to support the "Drunk Don't Drive" campaign (Mao Mai Khaab) are from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation fund derived from taxes based on cigarette and alcohol sales. The fund supports activities which help improve the physical, mental and spiritual health of the population.

On the panel at the press conference were Mrs. Somboon Suprasert, the organizer; Jao Duangduen Na Chiangmai , a leading authority on the culture and traditions of northern Thailand; Professor Kasem Nakornkhet of Chiangmai University, Dr. Thiravoot Komootboot the medical director of the emergency Room of the Suan Dork Hospital and Police Captain of the Traffic Police, Police Captain Bundit Soothiprapa.

Each panelist discussed the tragedy as seen from their own view point. From the disintegration of the traditional celebration of Songkran to the disintegration of the youth who should be the future energy of our society.

As the dignity and respect of the cultural traditions disappear, the point of the celebration is reduced to a test of "manliness" to see how much a good ole boy can drink.

Dr. Thiravoot earnestly spoke of how as a medical doctor he trained to save lives but at this 3-day holiday, his team save lives through amputation or using boring holes in a skull to relieve pressure on the brain. The karma of the silly, childish action of over drinking comes to reality all too tragically in the emergency room.

Dr. Kasem spoke on the psychology of the inebriated youth who shrug off personal responsibility for this drunken state but is quick to blame the 'other' driver as the cause of accidents. The youth feel this is 'their time of year' to drink out of control.

Captain spoke of what it's like for a duty commander to "hit the jackpot" when assigned to work on an afternoon of one of the three official holidays. The traffic police in the precinct breath a sigh of relief when they know they are not officially assigned duty. But all officers are forbidden to ask for personal leave or to call in sick during this intense holiday.

Last year as duty commander, Captain remembers well that he did not even see the inside of his office throughout the 6 hour afternoon shift. Twenty accidents that occurred in that time period. He drove from accident to accident. A few accidents turned out to be merely fender benders between arguing drunks. More often, the police were in the same circumstance as the medics, nurses and doctors being first on the scene to see the lifeless bodies with brains oozing out in a vivid red puddle on the road. Another horrible but common sight are the severed hands, arms, and feet strewn at an accident scene.

The panelists fervently spoke about the tragedies they could not avoid in their professional capacities. They urged wives and mothers to keep their intoxicated loved ones safe from harm by hiding the keys to the motorbikes and cars. The public can call 1669 to report a drunk driver to the authorities. Those who report can rest assured they are adding years to their loved ones lives.

Another sobering thought would be to remind the potential drunk driver that he will not easily get off with a pat on the wrist when arrested. The offender must post bond at the time of arrest. Later, he appears before a judge and the jail sentence starts at a duration of three months. In addition, the fine starts at Baht 2,000.

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