Just as athletes are often role models for young Americans, some judges deserve to be emulated by their peers. So it is with Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe of Tampa, Fla.
Coe is the judge who sent the entire country a much-needed message this week by sentencing former Olympic diving medalist Bruce Kimball to 17 years in Florida State Prison for a drunken driving accident that killed two teenagers and injured four others last summer.The message, of course, is that drunken drivers must pay for the great harm they do. But the message won't have much impact unless other judges stop letting drunken drivers off with light sentences and start following Coe's example of imposing the maximum, including in Kimball's case the permanent revocation of his driver license after he gets out of jail.
Even if judges all over the country start getting tougher, the job won't be complete until this nation makes driving under the influence of alcohol socially unacceptable. A tall order! Of course. But it can be done.
As a case in point, consider Scandinavia. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently noted, "In Scandinavia, it is socially unacceptable to drink and drive; consequently, the number of people killed by drunken driving there is relatively low."
How, then, can drunken driving be made socially unacceptable in America? Perhaps with the same kind of education campaigns and advertising controls that have helped reduce smoking in the U.S. If Congress won't get that tough, the least it should do is to encourage the liquor industry to run more "Know When to Say When" ads.
Americans needs to start thinking hard about how to meet this challenge. Meanwhile, let's hope the Bruce Kimball case signals a turning point in this country's attitude toward drivers who drink.