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What Could Be Worse Than Drunk Driving?

What Could Be Worse Than Drunk Driving?

Driving Drunk with Children in the Car

There is something worse than drunk driving: driving drunk with children in the car. Currently 36 states impose additional penalties for people charged with driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated if there is a child passenger. Child endangerment offenses are typically aggravating factors that increase the punishment and fines for DUI or DWI charges.

A new development in tightening DUI and DWI laws occurred in New York late last year. The state legislature not only chose to recognize drunk driving with child passengers as an offense, but it also made it a felony. A similar bill is expected to pass in Connecticut sometime this year.

Even One is Too Many

According to the most current data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 11,773 deaths from crashes involving drunk drivers in 2008. In the same year, 216 child passengers, ages 14 years or younger, were killed by drunk drivers. Nearly half of these children occupied the vehicle driven by a drunk adult with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. Approximately 168,000 children were injured by people driving drunk in 2008. Losing even one child to a preventable death like a drunk driving crash is too many, which was the inspiration behind a recent New York law.

Leandra’s Law

Leandra Rosado was 11 years old when she was killed in October of 2009. A friend’s mother was driving her and six of her friends to a slumber party when the car flipped because of excessive speeding. Leandra was thrown from the car and died later died from her injuries. Her friend’s mother was subsequently charged with manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and assault.

New York’s Child Passenger Protection Act, also known as Leandra’s Law, was passed in December of last year. It is touted as one of the toughest drunk driving laws in the nation because first-time offenders may be charged with a felony punishable up to four years in prison. It requires automatic driver’s license suspension for drivers with a BAC of .08 or higher or under the influence of drugs that drove with a child of 15 years or less in the vehicle. They must also install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles.

In addition, Leandra’s Law allows for even steeper penalties for drunk drivers accused of serious injury or death to a child. If convicted, prison sentences may vary from a maximum of 15 to 25 years. A further punishment is to report any parents who drive drunk which child passengers to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. The hope is that there will be a federal law similar to Leandra’s Law one day and that these harsher punishments will save children’s lives in the future.

Connecticut’s Cause

In the shadow of New York’s Leandra’s Law, legislation to pass a similar act was recently submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly. The bill, entitled An Act Concerning the Penalty for Drunken Driving with Young Passengers, was introduced in February of this year. Its goal is “to provide an enhanced penalty for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug and while a child is a passenger.”

Although the current bill does not mention making the new charge a felony, it does indicate that the law would apply to anyone charged with a DUI or DWI who drove drunk with a child of 16 years old or younger in the car. The legislation was referred to, and is currently up for discussion in, the Joint Committee on Transportation. The text of the bill may still be amended to include further details, but a vote on this issue is expected at some point this year.

For the Children

Children do not always have a choice when it comes to riding with a drunk parent or adult, so laws that could save the lives of children are important pieces of legislation. Children deserve the protection of the law, especially in situations when adults drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs with children in the car. Statutes that attempt to prevent child endangerment or that vigorously punish those adults who choose to drive drunk with young passengers are one way to lower the numbers of injuries and deaths suffered by children in alcohol-related crashes.

No parent or relative should ever have to go through the loss of a child, especially under the devastating circumstances of a drunk driving accident. If your child or a child that you know was injured or killed in an automobile accident where alcohol was involved, contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area. A lawyer may be able to answer any questions you might have about your rights and possibly provide an opportunity to recover for your pain and suffering or a wrongful death.