Diane Schuler and the Female DUI Epidemic

Diane Schuler’s case is representative of a growing number of female DUIs that result in tragic consequences.

Diane Schuler may have felt isolated in the last minutes of her life as she sped the wrong way down the Taconic Parkway with four children and a half-empty vodka bottle in a minivan in July 2009, but as a woman driving drunk she was far from alone.

Arrests for drunk driving among women have increased 36% in the past ten years, even as those for men have plummeted, according to FBI statistics quoted in a study released last month. Inspired by Schuler’s tragic 2009 accident in which four children and four adults were killed, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) reviewed 20 years of statistics on female Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) arrests from many sources.

What they found is truly alarming. In 1980, 9% of drivers arrested for DWI—drinking with a blood alcohol content (BAC) higher than 0.08—were women; by 2007, women comprised more than 20% of all DWIs. Also steadily increasing are both the number of women jailed for drunk driving and the number of women involved in drunk driving fatalities, according to the TIRF study.

What do women arrested for DWI have in common?   Most of thhem are experiencing alcohol problems of both “gravity and complexity,” the study says. (The same is true for men who arrested.) In other words, the vast majority of DWI busts are not one-offs—they are caused by a person’s serious, often chronic, abuse of alcohol. In theory, one DWI could indicate one mistaken assessment that you were not too intoxicated to get behind the wheel; in practice, people who get arrested for drunk driving are generally drunks.

Many women alcoholics, like their male counterparts are confident that their drinking is under control even once they’re behind the wheel. Like Diane Schuler, who was an attentive PTA mother with a six-figure executive career (“she did everything, she was the boss,” her husband, Daniel Schuler, told New York Magazine), in most circumstances they betray few signs of their disease. In fact, they put considerable energy into maintaining this deception. How can we spot them? The Female alcoholics\ will often drink when others are not drinking—at a ladies lunch, say, or a bridge game—or, unable to resist the urge to order a third glass of wine. Sometimes her eyes may be red or her breath may smell of alcohol or breath mints. Often her plans go awry, whether for the children’s summer camp or a job interview.

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