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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: We've all heard the statement, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." My question is this: To what extent should a friend go in order to prevent someone from driving drunk?

I am a 6-foot guy who is in good shape. I'm sure I could prevent anyone from getting behind the wheel, but let's just say it could get ugly.

With all the danger and devastation that could result from drunk drivers, is it reasonable to use physical force to stop them -- or should one's protests end at a verbal level?

Thanks in advance for setting me straight, Abby. I want to do the right thing. -- ERIC IN LONG BEACH, CALIF.

DEAR ERIC: In the past I have advised concerned friends to "do whatever it takes" to prevent an obviously drunk person from getting behind the wheel.

But in 1999 a reader did me one better. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: ... Twice I have had to take car keys from drunken friends who insisted they could drive ... later, they both thanked me.

On another occasion, I tricked a large male friend (who was almost too drunk to stand) by switching his keys for mine. I simply said, "Hey, you've got the wrong keys," holding out mine and grabbing his. Abby, he bought it -- and when he couldn't get his car started, he just slept it off behind the wheel of his car, which was parked in my driveway. Later, upon reflection, he realized what he'd done and thanked me profusely for "saving a few lives that night." (It's been more than four years and he hasn't touched a drop since.)

The point is: ANYTHING is better than a drunk driver on the streets or highways. Do whatever it takes -- remember, one intoxicated person is usually no match for two or more sober ones. You can outwit them -- or you can use force if necessary. Everyone I have mentioned in this letter was at least twice my size. I'm female, 5 feet, 2 inches and weigh less than 100 pounds. -- BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, AND I'LL KEEP DOING IT

DEAR BEEN THERE: I admire your gutsiness and ingenuity in switching car keys with your drunken male friend. However, knowing how unpredictable a person under the influence can be, I would never recommend using force to dissuade someone from driving, because it could provoke violence. It's deplorable, but I've seen it happen.

DEAR ABBY: I'm 29 years old, a single mother of three kids, and I have been dating one guy exclusively for about five years. We live together in a house he inherited from his grandmother.

Every time his mother comes into town, he asks my kids and me to pack up all our stuff and leave until she's gone. He says it's because his mother doesn't want us to live together until we're married and that she was raised in this house. What do you think? -- PUT OUT IN PHOENIX

DEAR PUT OUT: I think after five years, it's time you stopped clinging to this fully grown boy and found a man who is marriage-minded. His insistence that you take the children and move out when his mother comes to town means he's unwilling or unable to stand up to her disapproval.

Children need stability. Being uprooted every time this woman visits cannot be good for them emotionally. Please understand that this is only a sample of what your future holds, if at any point you and this man marry. His mother's approval will always come before the welfare of you and your children.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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