Driving Drunk With Kids: A Survivor Speaks

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    NEWSLETTERS

    It's happening all too often. Parents arrested for driving drunk with at least one of their kids strapped in the back seat. What drives them to do it? A mother who once did, and is now helping others, speaks out. (Published Thursday, Feb 24, 2011)

    Pat Pryor Bonica nearly gasps at the thought of what might have been.

    "Only when I got sober and looked back did I realize how I could have killed people," the Bayville resident said, fighting back tears.

    Pryor Bonica, the longtime owner of a successful Hicksville recruiting business, spent 20 years in an alcoholic haze. The disease, she said, makes people "do things you would never do."

    Like driving drunk with your kids in the car, which has been occurring in New York at an alarming rate over the past year.

    The mother of five did that on a regular basis, she recalled during an interview with NBC New York.  And she never thought twice about it. 

    "Your addiction becomes bigger than your logic," she said.

    Since December 2009, nearly 920 New Yorkers have been arrested for driving drunk with children in the car, according to statistics from the state division of criminal justice services.

    Nearly a quarter of those taken into custody are from New York City's five boroughs, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties.

    Many were parents driving with their own children in the car.

    Those statistics have been compiled since the passage of "Leandra's Law," which made it a felony in New York state to drive drunk with a child.

    The law was named for 11-year-old Leandra Rosado of the Bronx, who died in a 2009 crash.  She was riding in a vehicle driven by a friend's mom, who was drunk, and the car crashed on the Henry Hudson parkway.

    "It is the height of irresponsibility for a parent to drive drunk with a kid in the car," said Long Island state Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick), a co-sponsor of the law.

    "We have the toughest laws in the nation, but we have to change the mindset for this epidemic."

    Alcohol use is on the rise, according to Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, as are incidents of parents driving drunk with kids in the car.  The reasons are many, he explained -- the bad economy, pressures at work and in the home, a hectic lifestyle.

    And, he said, the problem could get worse.

    "Governments are cutting funding for alcohol education and treatment at a time we need it most," Reynolds said.

    To help fight the problem, Fuschillo wants mandatory jail time for any repeat DWI offender.

    And Reynolds says ignition interlocks should be mandatory in every U.S. car. The interlocks prevent drivers from starting a vehicle until they blow into a breathalyzer and prove they are sober.

    Right now, only those convicted of DWI in New York must install ignition interlocks in their cars.

    Pat Pryor Bonica is doing her part to change things, serving as a board member of the Long Island Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence and working as a "life coach" with women in crisis.

    "It breaks my heart to see people's lives being wiped out by this disease," said the grandmother of seven, who has been sober for 23 years.

    For more information on where to get help for alcoholism, visit www.LICADD.org. or www.NCADD.org