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Drink Driving Cost Me $60,000 and the Best Years of My Life

I'd seen people driving in a much worse state. I thought I was sweet.

by Katherine Gillespie
23 January 2018, 3:08am

Illustration by Ben Thomson

This article is supported by the WA Road Safety Commission. We look at the repercussions of casual drink driving and getting behind the wheel.

It was two days after my final exam of my first semester of uni and I was celebrating at my friend's house. Just one suburb away from my own. We were having afternoon drinks—I'd planned to stay at his and then drive home the next day. Initially, there were around five of us there, but more people started to rock up. They were all from further away, in the eastern suburbs, and couldn't get home. So he let them stay the night, and asked if I was right to drive. I was like, "Yeah, fuck it." I decided to get on the waters and drive home. I had to be somewhere super early the next day anyway and it was only a two-minute journey back to my house through some back streets.

When I left, I didn't think I was under the legal limit, but I thought I was getting close. Like, almost sober enough to drive.

A mate who lived near me jumped in the passenger seat. Soon after we started driving we were going around a very slight corner and, even though I'd slowed down in anticipation, I clipped one of the parked cars on the left of me. This broke my front left wheel and pulled me into the gap between that car and the car after it, which basically created a domino effect and hit the car in front of it, and so on. I ended up damaging five parked cars in a chain reaction. No one else was in the crash aside from me and my friend, which is lucky, because they would have been in a bad shape. One of the cars was a write-off, the others were fixable.

Our airbags didn't even come out. I had a huge gash on my neck from my seat belt. My friend had been sitting with his legs up on the dashboard, with no shoes on, so he got glass on his feet and had back problems for a while after that. When the police came, I immediately admitted I'd been drinking.

I blew a fair bit over, even though I felt alright. I was very surprised. I thought I'd just be a tiny bit over, and I'd seen people driving in a much worse state. I thought I was sweet.

I got a drink driving conviction. But the worst thing is the debt: about $60, 000. None of which was covered by insurance, because I was drink driving. I was 19 when it happened, in my first year of uni; I'm 24 now. I've been living at home and working to pay off the debt over the past five years and I'm still at least three years away from being completely debt-free. I'm about to go on holiday for the first time since just before the crash.

My parents were extremely pissed off, and the crash has definitely affected all my relationships. At first my dad told me I wasn't his son anymore and said I had to deal with the situation on my own. Luckily, my sister persuaded him against this. My mate who was in the car? His girlfriend couldn't even speak to me afterwards. Actually, we still don't speak.

In the short term, the crash was all I was thinking about. I'd have nightmares about it every night. In one I was older and had my kid in the car, who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. After the crash there’d be a hole in the windscreen where the kid had flown out. I had that one every night for two or three months. Plus a bunch of variations, different scenarios with different people in the car.

Funny thing is that straight after the crash my friend was on the side of the road, having a meltdown, crying. I had no idea what was going on until he admitted to me that he had been caught drink driving earlier that day. Then he'd literally gotten into the car with me, even though I’d been drinking. It was my choice, but I was annoyed that he was annoyed at me when he could easily have stepped in and explained what he'd just gone through—maybe even prevented the whole thing.

Whenever I see this stuff happening now, I make sure to stop it in its tracks. I've explained my story to many people. I'm ruthless about it at parties. I tell people that what they're going to go through by not getting in the car is nothing compared to the alternative.

Oh, you're going to be late for work because you have to go pick up your car in the morning? Or you have to pay $50 for a taxi because you live far away? It's nothing compared to a $60,000 debt and almost killing your friend. Or even just getting pulled over and losing your licence.

People still rib me and give me shit for drink driving. But when I actually tell them about the situation, about what I've been through, they understand the severity. When you're in the aftermath of it, you look back and realise that making the decision seemed like nothing at the time. But the consequences are massive.

I have some insanely intelligent friends who would still drink and drive, because they can't empathise with the future version of themselves who is going to be in this situation. They can't see themselves getting caught out for it, and having to deal with the blowback—all your friends hating you, your parents disowning you, being in an entire year's salary of debt. You never consider that you could waste years of your life. Or take someone else's.

As told to Katherine Gillespie

This article is supported by the WA Road Safety Commission. You can find out more about road safety here.