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Auto and Road User Journal
February 1, 1997
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President Clinton Unveils New Universal Child Seat Attachment System to Make Installation Safer, Easier
NHTSA Issues Final Rule; Proposes Two Changes to Reduce Air Bag Dangers
NHSTA Announces Comprehensive Plan to Improve Air Bag Technology and Reduce Air Bag Dangers
Lime-Yellow Fire Trucks Safer Than Red
Coping with Driver Fatigue
Drivers Voice Support for Zero Tolerance, Graduated Licensing
Insurance Institute Publishes Vehicle Death Rate Comparisons for 1990-94
Improving Highways for Older Driver Use
Insurance Institute Video Describes Steps to Airbag Safety















Highway Safety Publications Catalog. Articles on Road Engineering, Road Maintenance & Management, and Injury Litigation. Information and consulting for the Automobile and Road User, as well as for law professionals in accident investigations.
TranSafety's free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and highway safety publications catalog. See our free consumer journal for automobile and road users, three subscription journals on road maintenance, engineering, and injury litigation, and a highway safety publications catalog.

Maryland Man Amazed, Angered By Piles of Beer Cans Littering Roadsides: Recycling Project Becomes Survey of Drinking and Driving

(This article was published in the April 20, 1996 (Vol. 31, No. 3) issue of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's "Status Report.")

Dennis Brezina pulls off the shoulder of a Delaware back road and gets out of his car. Within seconds he's picking up three beer cans from a ditch and putting them in a garbage bag. Another half-mile down the road he calls "beer can alley," he finds about 20 more beer cans plus liquor bottles strewn about.

This is just a few day's worth. "I couldn't believe it when I started looking," Brezina says. "If you told me back in September there would be 2,400 cans on this road in just a few months, I'd have said there couldn't be. I used to drive on this road before, and I never saw this because I wasn't looking for it."

Brezina, who lives with his wife Debbie in Chesapeake City, Maryland near the Delaware border, is an artist and writer. Last fall, he started collecting cans for recycling to benefit a local homeless shelter. What he didn't know then was that this would turn into a research project, a quest of sorts to see how many motorists consume alcohol while they drive. What he's discovered amazes and angers him.

"It just started very innocently," Brezina explains. "It was a kind of casual thing. I started picking up cans on the way to the post office about a mile away. It didn't take too long to come into a sort of culture shock. I couldn't believe there were so many cans. What was really shocking--a week later there were just as many.

"It sort of took off from a few cans a week to hundreds a week. As you get into something like this, all sorts of things start changing. The first thing you ask yourself is, is this too much? Then, why is this happening? The roads average about two cans per mile per night. Something inside me tells me that's too much."

So Brezina started to count the beer cans he collects, and he records the data in a journal. He doesn't include beer or liquor bottles, just the cans he finds. An avid bird watcher, Brezina decided to pattern his surveys after the Audubon Society's bird nesting surveys. He now regularly patrols roads in about 320 square miles of Maryland and Delaware, visiting selected sites one or more times every two to three weeks. He spends about an hour every day on his rounds, which have bec[o]me a form of exercise for him.

The last four months of 1995, Brezina collected 3,500 cans, and in 1996 he's gathered more than 7,100--only about 10 percent soda cans. "At a point you get really angry when you see all this going on," he says. "What do you do? Count the damn things, and keep on counting.

"Around here, about 50 percent of roadside litter is from alcohol containers. I'd say 98 percent of it is [thrown out by] drivers, not by people dumping trash. It became obvious after a while that the cans are evenly distributed. No matter how many you count, there are always some you miss.

"If you didn't know what to look for, you'd never see it. If you're going 65 mph, you're not going to see this. I've found no indication it's just a rural problem. What I'm coming up with is that it's ongoing. It's like nothing slows it down, not even snow. There's nothing I've found to suggest that it's just once in a while, a weekend thing."

Dennis and Debbie Brezina want people to know they're not crazy. "This isn't my life's work," Dennis says. He'd like to use an outbuilding on his property for its intended purpose--as a studio. But right now it's a holding pen for beer cans, and the Brezinas don't even drink.

Brezina thinks he'll continue his survey for about two years. He plans to create a newsletter and Internet web page to share his information and connect with other people across the country who may be doing the same thing. He also wants to attract the attention of Maryland government officials. "Hopefully by the sixth newsletter they'll say maybe we should start sobriety checkpoints."

Something good will come of his efforts, Brezina hopes. A wall map in his home office shows the area he patrols, and one road is marked with a flower and the name of a 29-year-old man. "That's our first fatality," Brezina says, pointing to the spot. "It's really an e[e]rie feeling to be picking up cans the day after someone died in an alcohol-related crash on the same road. I wonder if any of the cans I picked up were from his car."


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