Ken Kifer Killed by drunk driver
September 15, 2003 8:00 PM   Subscribe

"I promote using a bicycle instead of a motor vehicle because doing so is kind to the environment, good for the body, and good for the psyche." Ken Kifer, the author of the above statement and much other excellent advice will no longer be updating his lauded web page. Ken was killed while cycling last saturday night by a drunk driver who had been released from jail only 4 hours earlier. The suspect had been incarcerated for a separate drunk driving incident.
posted by jester69 (38 comments total)
 
Oh, the irony, if the drunk had a Darwin Fish bumper sticker.
posted by mischief at 8:29 PM on September 15, 2003


I never quite have understood why drunk driving is treated so lightly here in the States (not sure about elsewhere). You willingly take a series of drinks, then get in a car and drive, then kill someone. How is that not premeditated murder? Drunk drivers suck.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:29 PM on September 15, 2003


I'm with what Bill says. I lost a close friend (on a bicycle) to some bozo driving under the influence. So the irony is kind of lost on me — and the other 17,000 annual alcohol-related traffic fatalities. (At the very least, a conviction ought to disqualify you from elective office.)
posted by hairyeyeball at 9:31 PM on September 15, 2003


so awful...

I think we should be much tougher on drunk drivers too--some of the problem rests with giving licenses back to people already convicted once...can't they do something there?

and welcome jes!
posted by amberglow at 9:41 PM on September 15, 2003


billsaysthis, while too often it seems that drunk driving per se is treated lightly, vehicular homicide does tend to be taken seriously. (Of course, there are always exceptions.) Your invocation of the word premeditation is inappropriate. If someone does not plan to kill a particular individual, then the death is not premeditated, under American jurisprudence. You may have intended to severely injure one, knowing that great bodily harm or death would be the result; that is generally, in the US, second degree murder. You may have taken actions which a sober, reasonable person would know had the capacity to severely injure or kill another person; that is generally considered involuntary manslaughter. (Voluntary manslaughter is typically homicide with provocation, rather than premeditation.) Essentially, you were reckless, took actions which may or may not have killed, and proceeded anyway. In most US jurisdictions, vehicular homicide is a separate crime, but treated very similarly to involuntary manslaughter.

Nevertheless, we can't lock up all drunk drivers forever on the assumption that they have been reckless so someone may get killed. (Without a dead body, the crime is reckless endangerment, which is generally a misdemeanor.) We have to let them go sometime. And those persons can act recklessly again. It's very like the similar problem with Temporary Restraining Orders, which are pretty ineffective at warding off someone with the intent and means to commit murder.
posted by dhartung at 10:09 PM on September 15, 2003


On saturday my friend was leaving to go to chicago, and there were two kegs. I got drunk and I was about to leave (because if you have a few drinks, you start to think you can do just about anything) and my friend who had a DUI just a week earlier asked me "Are you sure you want to leave? The base fine is $3700."

I handed Nick my keys. Best decision I made in a long time.
posted by Keyser Soze at 10:29 PM on September 15, 2003


I just spent the last 5 years watching my best friend twist his life into knots (in many ways) serving out his sentence for a DUI. Fortunately he was stopped before anything terrible happened. But man, they sure did make things super tough on him for a looooong time. I can certainly say, however, that I am quite proud of him and his efforts to learn from his bad judgement. He's done everything they've asked, even when it was a tad absurd.

I tend to think we need to be tougher on drunk drivers as well, especially the repeat offenders. But how? In my 16 years or so of driving, I can't count how many times I've driven when I shouldn't have... whether it be legally drunk, but "ok to drive", or just plain ole shouldn't even THINK about driving (for the most part occurring many many years ago). I am so thankful that I've never had to go through what my friend had to go through... yet I probably definitely deserved to as some point in my past. For 5 years (almost) my friend has been literally trapped where he lives, riding his bike (in a not-so-bike-friendly place), drug tests, the expenses and fines, etc. etc. Not being able to drive, or restrictive driving sucks. But a stiff "slap in the mouth" punishment certainly seems reasonable.

It's just that, at .08 blood alcohol level (in most places), it hardly takes more than a sniff of a drink to make you "under the influence". Honestly, I'm surprised we don't kill each other more often with our cars, drunk or not. The stupidest people you know... drive. The guy in front of you in aisle 6 at the Kroger, that can barely manage to steer a friggin' shopping cart, drove to the store... in a 2,500 lb. careening hunk of death.
posted by Witty at 12:59 AM on September 16, 2003


Not being able to drive, or restrictive driving sucks. But a stiff "slap in the mouth" punishment certainly seems reasonable.

Honestly, I think the "not being able to drive" part of the punishment should be swifter and longer lasting. At least in the US, driving is a privilege, not a right. He may be inconvenienced by the sentence, but had he continued to drive and killed someone, that would be a greater inconvenience for all. Especially for whomever he ran over and their loved ones.

Then again, I feel for drunk divers in a way. In most of the US the public transport is so piss poor that I can see where a drunk driver might incorrectly think they had no options.

Your friend is kind of between a rock and a hard place, but I also would rather he was not driving until he knows not to drink and drive. Ever. Period. Generally, it is so hard to get caught drinking and driving in the US that, in order for someone to get a DUI, they probably have been habitually driving under the influence for quite a while.
posted by jester69 at 5:05 AM on September 16, 2003


This front-page post was like a punch in the gut. Kifer's site is an amazing resource. He seemed like a really good guy -- down to earth, earnest, maybe a little nerdy, but in a nice way.

"There are many people who think that bicycling is especially dangerous, not recognizing that cyclists travel more miles per fatality than pedestrians and more hours per fatality than passenger vehicle users," he wrote on his bicycle traffic safety page.
posted by Holden at 5:52 AM on September 16, 2003


Ah man. I've read so much of his website. I used it as a resource for planning my first cycling tour which I went on this summer. I was looking forward to hearing about his newest tour, but now that's not gonna happen. Damn.
posted by Hall at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2003


It's just that, at .08 blood alcohol level (in most places), it hardly takes more than a sniff of a drink to make you "under the influence"

For a boring-average size man, it takes 3 or 4 drinks in an hour; for a boring average-size woman, 2 or 3.

Either way, far more than a sniff of a drink, even if you're not about to pass out and puke on yourself.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:20 AM on September 16, 2003


"Oh, the irony, if the drunk had a Darwin Fish bumper sticker."

Putting drunken idiots inside large metal machines is not the fullest expression of survival of the fittest.
posted by mecran01 at 6:26 AM on September 16, 2003


He may be inconvenienced by the sentence, but had he continued to drive and killed someone, that would be a greater inconvenience for all. Especially for whomever he ran over and their loved ones.

Oh, I certainly agree.... he would too. But other than some poor judgement and poor behavior on that night (and I'm not saying it was the first and only time he's ever driven after having some beers), he's not a bad dude. He's not a bad dude in the sense that, he's not the kind of person that finds himself in various kinds trouble all the time. He's a mild mannered, harmless, friendly, good citizen, blah blah blah, kind of guy. But believe me, he's learned his lesson (and so have I quite frankly).

It's an interesting crime. Very rarely does anyone ever think of themselves as commiting a crime when they are driving while under the influence (wasted driving aside). Whereas something like theft... everyone knows stealing is a crime. They know it then, they know it the next day. Drunk driving is done once you get home. The next day, you're over it. You don't have to "look over your shoulder". There's no lingering paranoia... waiting to get picked up for driving drunk last weekend. It's just such a wierd set of dynamics unlike most other crimes I can think of. Your girlfriend's mom is a cute little lady one day and a felon the next... two manhattans at the bridal shower can do that to ya.

But it is those weird dynamics that can make the girlriend's mom, first-time-slip-up and the 7-time repeat offender the same deadly force behind the wheel. I'm all for tough laws and punishments. It's just a shame that the nature of this type of crime doesn't allow much room for judges to treat each case independantly. Because regardless of your past, your intentions, or anything else, a drunk behind the wheel is a drunk behind the wheel.
posted by Witty at 6:32 AM on September 16, 2003


Here in Toronto, a friend of mine was pulled over and charged with a DWI - no accident involved, just some sloppy steering. He spent the night in jail, got fined $1,000, and lost his license for a year. He also had a criminal record (though he has since gotten a pardon) and it affected his insurance. They're cracking down all right. C. told me it really had been a good thing in a way - he had been drinking too much in general and been acting like a pig. He said he did a lot of thinking that night in jail and after that changed his behaviour in several ways. It's really too bad everyone can't be that willing to recognize that they need to change.
posted by orange swan at 6:36 AM on September 16, 2003


The news finally hit the press, at least at the local level. Here is the story in the Scottsboro, Alabama Daily sentinel. His identity as the victim has been confirmed even though the story in the Sentinel does not reflect such.
posted by jester69 at 7:06 AM on September 16, 2003


But other than some poor judgement and poor behavior on that night (and I'm not saying it was the first and only time he's ever driven after having some beers), he's not a bad dude.

he wasn't charged with being a "bad dude".

I know DUI is taken pretty lightly in a lot of places; it seems to be still socially acceptable in many circles, since driving is so necessary and drinking so normal / desirable - to give up either on a regular basis seems antithetical to american life. But cars really are dangerous machines. We should probably be stricter on licenses to begin with, but post-DWI, license suspension and regular testing seem like a pretty good idea.
posted by mdn at 7:15 AM on September 16, 2003


I used to hang out on Usenet, especially the rec.bicycles.* hierarchy. Ken was one of the usual suspects there, and though I never met him in person, he came across as a good guy--I feel like I knew him, a little. A punch in the gut indeed.

I've been in bike vs car accidents before, bad ones. People sometimes ask me "Why do you ride a bike, isn't it dangerous?" As I think this makes clear, it's not the bike that's dangerous, it's the car.
posted by adamrice at 7:24 AM on September 16, 2003


I think the solution to drunk driving is in another thread on mefi today: better pedestrian access and better public transportation. And if you think you'll have a problem not driving while drunk, make sure you live walking distance for some bars, or in a town where cabs or public transportation can get you home safely.

I'd be interested in seeing location statistics on drunk driving accidents and fatalities to see if they are more concentrated in rural and suburban areas where you can't grab a taxi or walk down the street to your favorite bar.
posted by jennyb at 7:51 AM on September 16, 2003


In most of the US the public transport is so piss poor that I can see where a drunk driver might incorrectly think they had no options.

Or they could *think* about how they're getting home before they get hammered. (And if they can afford to drink, they can afford a taxi.)

It's just a shame that the nature of this type of crime doesn't allow much room for judges to treat each case independantly. Because regardless of your past, your intentions, or anything else, a drunk behind the wheel is a drunk behind the wheel.

This shouldn't allow much room for judges, any more than your first store robbery should be treated differently than your 9th store robbery. It all results in the same fear, mayhem, grief and financial loss for the victims.

But I agree with you, most drunk drivers are treated equally in the US - way too leniently, that is.

3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. Because of that, the present administration has started two wars whose price tags will run in the hundreds of billions of dollars, killing thousands more in the process, and they've also started a good job of shredding the Constitution.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people die every year because of drunk drivers, yet our reaction to that is appallingly mild, especially compared to laws and penalties in Europe and Japan.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:01 AM on September 16, 2003


Very rarely does anyone ever think of themselves as committing a crime when they are driving while under the influence....

I think that is the crux of the problem here in the US. People have a perception that if you go into a crowded town square and shoot randomly with a gun, it is a crime wether you hit anyone or not. People do not seem to perceive driving a car drunk in the same crowded town square to be a crime. Both endanger innocent folks, both are illegal, yet the drunks seem to have excuses made for them and get chance after chance to reform their ways.

Do you think that gentleman shooting up the town square would ever legally be allowed a gun again? So, why do we give the drunken driver his license back so quickly, or not take it at all in many cases?

When one drinks and drives, they are playing russian roulette with other peoples lives. It is wrong the first and last time, and every time in between.

Nothernlite, you are preaching to the choir here.
posted by jester69 at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2003


Let's treat drunk driving the way we treat other drugs: immediately impound and auction off the vehicle. My guess is that the problem would go away in about 30 days.

But what if the car belonged to someone else? Bummer--don't give loaded weapons to dangerous people.
posted by mecran01 at 8:32 AM on September 16, 2003


Making a stupid mistake = forgiveable.
Making a stupid mistake that might possibly kill someone else = unforgiveable.

I don't think it is unreasonable to permanently take away the license of anyone ever found to have driven under the influence of alchohol.
posted by luriete at 10:38 AM on September 16, 2003


I don't want anyone to think I am defending drunk drivers, but I think the issue needs some perspective. First, lowering the BAC limit from 0.12 gm% to 0.08 gm% as has been done since the 1960's stops some tragedies, but has less effect than one might think; most of the worst wrecks are caused by drivers with a BAC of 0.18-0.20 or higher and lowering the limit does not stop them, it only subjects more drivers to the penalties for DUI. Second, it has been demonstrated that many other things impair driving ability to an extent comparable to drinking. This includes sleep deprivation, talking on the phone, adjusting the radio, over the counter and prescription drugs (especially antihistamines) and so on. Should we punish people engaged in these activities while driving to the same extent as drunk drivers? Just something to think about.
posted by TedW at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2003


Should we punish people engaged in these activities while driving to the same extent as drunk drivers?

In a word: Hell, yes.

Traffic deaths rank at or near the top as leading cause of death of our fellow citizens. It's time we put an end to the massacre. Start treating driving as serious business. Demand a higher standard.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:39 PM on September 16, 2003


I think the solution to drunk driving is in another thread on mefi today: better pedestrian access and better public transportation.

Damn straight. One of the things I love most about living in New York is that I can go out and drink as much as I want without worrying about putting anyone in danger. Thank you, MTA.
posted by jonmc at 2:01 PM on September 16, 2003


The guy in front of you in aisle 6 at the Kroger, that can barely manage to steer a friggin' shopping cart, drove to the store... in a 2,500 lb. careening hunk of death

Man, I've lost count of how many times I've also thought of that! It's sad....
posted by starscream at 2:05 PM on September 16, 2003


dhartung: Nevertheless, we can't lock up all drunk drivers forever on the assumption that they have been reckless so someone may get killed.

I'm not saying that. But there is an extremely high recidivism rate (AFAIK) for drunk drivers who cause accidents. So I think the increasingly severe punishments for second and subsequent convictions is more than fair.

But too many people have killed someone (riding a bike, walking, or driving another car like our politician pal over in South Dakota) and walked away without much more than a proverbial slap on the wrist, as tough as that slap was for Witty's friend. All the time I read in the paper that such convictions are rewarded with less than five years in prison and that's before time off for good behavior/standard parole considerations.

This is a war that we could win. Drink all you want, just don't drive. No public transportation? Drink somewhere closer to home, or at home. Invite friends and have a sleepover--you'll all be too smashed to be concerned about sleeping on the floor.
posted by billsaysthis at 2:59 PM on September 16, 2003


Over in Hungary, there is a zero-tolerance approach to drunk driving. If there is any trace of alcohol in your blood, then you get two years prison. This creates a culture in which people are effectively brainwashed from birth against drunk driving. Helpful to this was an awesome public transit system in Budapest, where you can get within walking distance of just about anywhere at any time of night.

This is just another illustration of how the US suffers from its car culture. Move closer to work, sell your car, buy a bicycle, and give the leftover to your city's public transit department.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:12 PM on September 16, 2003


Wow. I like Hungary's approach.

I drove impaired once during a really stupid, stupid moment in University. I realized how stupid it was the next day and made a commitment to never do that again. And, on the whole, I think I've lived up to it: I haven't driven while knowingly impaired.

But I am sure I've driven when I shouldn't have. Those "it's only been a couple beer at the pub, and it's been a burger and an hour since" things.

Which, coupled with a "What's the worst that'll happen? Hundred bucks fine? Couple points off my license? Pshaw!" means I've all-too-likely repeated my stupidity.

I rather strongly think that if the consequence were immediate and long-term jailtime, I'd have decided it wasn't worth the risk.

And I note that "running over a kid" doesn't seem to factor in my "what's the worst that will happen" thinking...
posted by five fresh fish at 4:27 PM on September 16, 2003


he wasn't charged with being a "bad dude".

I know, I know. I'm just trying to make the point that someone doesn't need to be a habitual trouble-maker/criminal to commit drunk driving. It's the kind of crime that can just happen, in a sense, to the everyday person... unlike robbery or assault for instance. I'm not trying to make excuses for my friend, at all. He got exactly what he deserved. But he has also rehabilitated himself to a T. I applaud him for that. He hasn't so much as sat in the driver's seat of a parked car in 4+ years.

But I agree with you, most drunk drivers are treated equally in the US - way too leniently, that is.

In some cases yes, perhaps most. In my friend's case, I would say his sentence was pretty hardcore... and tough. He deserved it. But I will agree that the laws are way to lenient for repeat offenders. Watching one of those "car chases caught on tape" shows one night, they were showing a women crashing her Buick, driving without a license, and drunk. She had been arrested 17 previous times for DUI. She should never see the light of day again.
posted by Witty at 5:41 PM on September 16, 2003


An update. The driver of the truck that killed Mr. Kifer has been charged with murder in his death.
posted by jester69 at 9:52 AM on September 17, 2003


Cool. I hope the charges stick.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2003


Damn, I always fall behind on reading these threads and end up posting comments that nobody will see. Anyway:

You know what I think would be helpful? Put breathalyzers in bars near the exit and give people access to them. As was evident in the discussion here, most people leaving a bar have no idea whether they're legally drunk or not. This would provide a way for people to get familiar with their limits and would provide drunk people with a big, objective NO that is harder to argue with than the advice of their friends.
posted by boredomjockey at 6:41 PM on September 21, 2003


Cool idea.

Or it would be, if anyone had seen it.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:59 PM on September 21, 2003


it is a good idea, but would it really stop people from driving?
posted by amberglow at 9:08 PM on September 21, 2003


They are already available.

Unfortunately, they don't seem to be too commonly used, and I can't see them becoming so. Not to be cynical, but I honestly think, in general, that the kind of people that drink and drive would rather not know.

Since drunken drivers get caught so rarely, I think they prefer to imagine they are doing nothing wrong, or are not that drunk. Knowing for sure they were breaking the law would be a bummer.
posted by jester69 at 8:31 AM on September 22, 2003


Damn, they beat me to it. Again. ;)

Oh well. If it's a failed idea, better someone else gets the blame, eh?
posted by boredomjockey at 6:36 PM on September 22, 2003


.
posted by zpousman at 6:59 PM on September 22, 2003


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