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U.S. still too lax about drunken driving

State Police troopers stand at the scene of

State Police troopers stand at the scene of a fatal crash in the westbound lanes of the Southern State Parkway near Exit 41S in Bay Shore. The crash occurred about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, July 12, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

Just more than 10,000 people were killed in the United States in drunken-driving accidents in 2013, 364 of them in New York State. If those numbers aren't a call to action, perhaps this will be: 4.

That's how old Sephora Ostane was when she died this past weekend. The life of her brother, Andy, ended at 8. Their father, Ancio Ostane, died at 37. Lucnie Bouaz-Ostane -- the mother and wife who managed to get out of the family's Toyota, only to watch her family perish as she struggled to free her loved ones from the burning wreckage -- is 36.

Police say Oneil Sharpe Jr., 24, drove the car that hit them. He was charged with driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene after the accident occurred about 1:30 a.m. Sunday on the Southern State Parkway.

Tragedies that involve drunken driving seem to come at us constantly. The pain of this one -- if authorities are right about the role of alcohol -- is sharper than usual, more of a wake-up call, because of the agony of this woman who said, "I want my family back. All I want is my family back."

We are not serious enough about eliminating drunken driving in this country, not nearly. For safety, we've installed seat belts in every car, despite the howls of manufacturers and some consumers, and, mostly, we require their use. We've installed air bags in every car, despite the howls of manufacturers and some consumers. But people still drive drunk.

Cops try hard with DWI checkpoints, but when parking lots at bars empty at closing time, it can be difficult to see how simply getting behind the wheel isn't enough to earn drivers sobriety tests.

The time has come to get serious about requiring that cars be built with alcohol-interlock devices. This huge shift shouldn't come without debate, both on the requirement and on how high a blood-alcohol content the devices would allow. We've made progress in reducing drunken-driving fatalities, with the annual death toll down about 60 percent since 1982. But that progress has stalled, with the number of those killed pretty much stuck at the same level since 2011. Some 10,000 deaths can't be considered an acceptable number -- because 4, 8 and 37 certainly aren't.