I Stole a Would-Be Drunk Driver’s Car Keys the Other Day

Fiorillo: A holiday-season PSA — drunk driving may be down, but there's still way too much of it.

Illustration: CSA-Printstock/iStock

Illustration: CSA-Printstock/iStock

Ah, the Christmas season. It’s a time for giving. A time for joy and family. A time for eating a little too much. And a time where people get behind the wheel after one too many.

Here’s the good news: Drunk driving is down considerably. After years and years of anti-drunk driving education (thanks to MADD and similar organizations) and the advent of Uber and Lyft, which make it so stupidly convenient not to drive drunk, the nation has seen a significant decline in the number of alcohol-related accidents.

Here’s the bad news: Plenty of people are still driving drunk and killing people in the process.

I don’t want to bog you down with statistics, but this is one you need to hear: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, around 10,000 people are killed in the United States each year in crashes caused by drunk driving. That’s moms, dads, toddlers, first-grade teachers, little old ladies coming back from shopping. All dead.

And right about now is when those deaths start to increase, thanks to all the holiday parties, homecomings, and our tendency to drink more during the blessed season.

Last Sunday, I found myself watching the disappointing Eagles game with some friends at a bar in Delaware County. When I got up to leave, I noticed a man staring intently out the window. I asked him what he was looking at, and he said that he wanted to see if his friend who had been hanging out at the bar got into his car, which was parked clear on the other side of busy West Chester Pike.

“He can’t even stand up straight,” the guy told me.

I crossed the street as his friend was, indeed, getting into the driver’s seat. I said hello to him, he said hello back, and I put out my hand out as if to shake his. Instead I promptly snatched the keys from his hand.

He started screaming at me, yelling my name over and over again as I ran back into the bar. I gave the keys to the concerned citizen at the window, who asked “What am I supposed to do with these?” “Just keep them away from him,” I yelled as I high-tailed it out the back door, working under the theory that the would-be drunk driver would probably want to kick my ass.

Later, I learned that he had come into the bar and freaked out, demanding his keys. And yes, that he wanted to kick my ass. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending: The owner of the bar drove him home. As it should be.

“You were right,” the bartender messaged me that afternoon. “He seemed fine until he got up to leave. I was trying to talk him out of driving, too. He’s home safe now. Thanks for the effort.”

Maybe the guy would have made it home just fine. Or maybe he would have killed or injured someone, including himself.

Or maybe he would have just wound up in jail.

That’s what happened to a good friend of mine this year after he had a few too many. He made it all the way home, only to smash into his neighbor’s car as he made a feeble attempt at inebriated parallel parking. So he sped off. He wound up spinning out at the next intersection and then went up a curb and onto the grass of a nearby golf course.

My friend didn’t hurt anyone — thank God — but he did get arrested. He managed to avoid jail time, but there’s the thousands of dollars in court costs and fines that he now has to come up with. Plus, he’s not allowed to drive. I just wish he had been drinking with me before all that happened, so I could have taken his keys away from him, too.

I feel like because we’ve gotten a lot better as a country with drunk driving, I’m seeing less drunk driving education out there now. And we’ve become less vigilant with ourselves and our friends.

So let me remind you: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Hell, strangers don’t let strangers drive drunk.

Here’s what you can do if you’re at a bar and some drunk person has their keys in their hand: Take them away.

If you’re not feeling brave enough to do that, tell the bartender or manager to do the same. Chances are, the bar is going to do the right thing, even if that’s just because they’re afraid of getting sued.

Really, the person is the responsibility of the bar that got them drunk, and the bar should call them a cab — and pay for it, if need be. But if that doesn’t happen, I think it’s fair to say that you have a moral obligation to make sure the person gets home OK, even if you’ve never met them before. It’s just part of what being a good person is all about.