When you hear the phrase "drunk driver," the picture in your mind is probably a 20 or 30-something-year-old stumbling out of a bar and into the driver's seat of a car late at night.
And what's probably not in your mental picture is a crying baby in the backseat.
Because...well...there shouldn't be one.
However, according to a recent news release by MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), of the 181 children under the age of 15 who were killed by alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2011, more than half were killed riding WITH drunk drivers.
The release went on to say that MADD receives 17,000+ phone calls per year related to "child endangerment" - and they're an organization specifically dedicated to eradicating the number of children killed by drunk drivers.
It has to stop.
That was the title of MADD's news release.
According to MADD, children riding with a drunk driver are not only at risk because of the driver's impairment, but also because drunk drivers are much less likely to use proper safety restraints, like child safety seats or seat belts.
In fatal crashes, drunk drivers were found to have only properly restrained their children 18% of the time, while sober drivers did so 30.5% of the time.
The release went on to say that MADD considers driving drunk with an underage child in the car to be child abuse and should be treated as such.
However, individual state laws vary widely on this issue.
Laws for children killed by drunk drivers
Currently, 43 states have enacted laws that impose stricter punishments for those found guilty of driving drunk with a child in their vehicle.
But some states only consider the crime a misdemeanor, while others have made it a felony with some pretty hefty punishments.
The state of New York is helping to lead the movement toward more serious actions against violators.
In 2009, the state enacted a "DUI Child Endangerment Law" they call "Leandra's Law" - named after 11-year-old Leandra Rosado who was killed on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City when her friend's mother flipped the car they were riding in, while under the influence of alcohol.
Leandra's Law makes it possible to charge first time offenders (.08 Blood Alcohol Content and a child under 16 years-old in the car) with a class E felony that would be punishable by up to 4 years in state prison. In addition:
- The driver's license is automatically suspended.
- The driver is required to install an ignition interlock in his or her vehicle for at least 6 months (beyond any term of imprisonment) - note, this applies to all drunk drivers, not just those with children in the vehicle.
- Violators are automatically reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment.
- If the drunk driving accident resulted in the child's death, the driver could be charged with a Class B felony - punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.
- If the drunk driving crash resulted in serious physical injury to the child, the driver could be charged with a Class C felony - punishable by up to 15 years in state prison.
NC's laws for children killed by drunk drivers
Driving drunk with a child under the age of 16 in the car is only punishable as a misdemeanor in North Carolina, although the penalties are somewhat stricter than those for just driving "under the influence."
The North Carolina statute carries a penalty of 7 days to 12 months in jail and a fine of no more than $2,000. However, these penalties may increase to a jail term of 30 days to 24 months and a fine of no more than $4,000 under aggravating circumstances.
While North Carolina's statute does not reach the level of Leandra's Law, it does contain harsher penalties than a number of states who have not enacted similar statutes.
Was your child killed by a drunk driver?
If so, we extend our very deepest and most heartfelt sympathies - we can't even begin to imagine what you're going through.
No amount of money can replace your loved one. But it might help raise awareness of the issue and, no matter who was at fault, your family may be eligible for compensation.
Please give us a call for a free case evaluation. We would appreciate the opportunity to help you if we can.