Schenectady County

RID marks 30 years of efforts to combat drunken driving

Bill DiKant recounted Saturday how four days after Christmas 1977, he said goodbye to his wife befor

Bill DiKant recounted Saturday how four days after Christmas 1977, he said goodbye to his wife before beginning his shift as a village of Nassau police officer.

“Little did I know that the next time I’d see her was at a car accident,” said DiKant after accepting the national Hero Award from the citizen action group Remove Intoxicated Drivers.

DiKant’s wife, son and daughter were killed by a drunken driver, who also died in the accident. DiKant’s second son survived but was in a coma for more than a month.

DiKant said he still carries his anger around with him but has channeled it into a good cause. He now spends time speaking with convicted DWI offenders about the impacts of their actions.

He said he’s had several people approach him to say that his speeches have motivated them and saved their lives.

DiKant was the first individual to accept the Hero Award from RID, which celebrated its 30th anniversary Saturday at the home of Schenectady resident Doris Aiken. Aiken founded RID and still serves as the organization’s president.

In the past 15 years, RID has helped to pass 41 bills associated with drunken driving, Aiken said.

Between 1980 and 1981, RID passed some of its most influential bills. Those include legislation that:

u disallowed plea bargaining on alcohol-related offenses

u increased the minimum fine for driving while ability impaired to $250 and for driving while intoxicated to $350

u created STOP-DWI programs that use money collected from fines

u immediately revoked the licenses of those refusing to take Breathalyzer tests at the scenes of accidents or motor vehicle stops.

Since RID’s inception, the chances of being killed in a DWI-related accident have decreased 70 percent, according to attorney Chris Cernik, who helped pass some of RID’s early bills.

“RID is changing the way we think and creating laws to support that,” Cernik said.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, who spoke Saturday during RID’s celebration, said he has always supported the initiatives of RID.

He said one of his first acts as district attorney was to change the part-time DWI prosecutor’s position to full-time.

Carney said society has come a long way in 30 years in attitudes toward drinking and driving and RID has played an important role in the transition.

“People are making smarter choices, and the highways are safer thanks to you,” he said.

Cheryl Fowler, deputy chief assistant in the Albany County district attorney’s office, outlined some of the new initiatives being pushed by District Attorney David Soares, including a larger focus on prevention programs, regular motor vehicle checkpoint stops and educating businesses about their responsibility in selling alcohol to intoxicated patrons.

RID is now embarking on a campaign to stop teenage binge drinking by preventing broadcasting companies from advertising alcohol-related products.

Aiken noted that by the time a person reaches the age of 16, they have already seen hundreds of thousands of advertisements for alcohol-related products. Aiken contends that marketing has significant influence.

And Aiken argued that there is no connection between binge drinking and the drinking age, currently at 21. The position has been raised by a group of college and university presidents nationwide who are pushing for debate on whether the legal drinking age should be lowered.

“The 21 drinking age law has saved 25,000 teenage lives since 1985,” Aiken said.

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