Then-20-year-old Jacqueline Saburido had dreams of one day helping her father run his air conditioning business after she finished her industrial engineering studies. She also wanted to learn to speak English, so in 1999 Jacqui moved to Texas to learn English at the University of Texas at Austin. Less than a month after arriving in the United States, Jacqui was severely injured when the car in which she and four other friends were riding was struck by a drunk driver. Two of Jacqui’s four friends died in the collision: Jacqui survived, but suffered catastrophic injuries and third-degree burns over more than 60 percent of her body. She has since undergone over 40 surgeries, incurred millions of dollars in medical expenses and ongoing healthcare costs, and is no longer able to pursue her dreams of a career working alongside her father in Venezuela. Unfortunately, Jacqui is not the only individual who has suffered the grave and terrible consequences of drunk driving.
According to a memorial site for Rachel Elliott, a women killed in a drunk driving accident in 2008, drunk driving and impaired driving are not victimless crimes: each year thousands of families across the nation are impacted by drivers who choose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) The victims of drunk driving come from all walks of life: parents with children at home who never return from a night out; teenagers with their lives ahead of them who suddenly have their dreams dashed; young families who are torn apart by injuries or deaths resulting from drunk driving collisions. Drivers who binge drink or consume too much alcohol can also suffer serious legal consequences if they are caught driving under the influence and/or cause injury or death to another person. Fines, jail and/or prison sentences, probation and supervision periods, driver’s license restrictions, and other penalties are commonly imposed in drunk driving injury and drunk driving fatality cases.
The Alabama car accident law firm of Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., is dedicated to helping victims of drunk driving crashes and their families recover financial compensation from drunk drivers and other parties who may be at-fault in causing or contributing to a drunk driving collision. Along with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), we are also committed to helping raise awareness about the prevalence and dangers of drunk driving as well as what residents of Alabama can do to protect themselves and reduce the number of drunk driving crashes.
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Drunk Driving Statistics Nationwide and in Alabama
For the past 35 years, Mothers Against Drunk Driving – better known by its acronym MADD – describes itself as the country’s largest nonprofit organization devoted to protecting individuals and families from the dangers of drunk driving through education and advocacy efforts. MADD also provides services to victims of drunk driving. According to MADD (and citing a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), nationally:
- Drunk driving fatalities in 2014 dropped below 10,000 (9,967) for the first time since 2011;
- Traffic-related fatalities in general had increased for the first half of 2015 – up as much as 8.1 percent; and
- States that have passed tough laws requiring the installation and use of ignition interlock devices continue to see a decrease in the number of alcohol-related fatalities.
Statistics from MADD also indicate that, for the most recent reporting year in Alabama:
- There were over 14,000 DUI (driving under the influence) arrests resulting in approximately 9,500 convictions;
- There were 260 drunk driving fatalities—an eight percent increase from the previous year; and
- There were also approximately 2,650 DUI-related crashes resulting in at least one injury (in which one party had a breath or blood alcohol concentration of at least .01.)
While these statistics provide a “bird’s-eye-view” of the problem of drunk drivers in Alabama, it is easy to forget the pain and burdens represented by these sterile numbers. Consider the family of Catherine Virgona, who, according to a story published on AL.com, recently lost their beloved daughter in an alleged DUI crash in Tuscaloosa which claimed the 23-year-old’s life. Or consider the May 2015 crash, also detailed on AL.com, on U.S. Highway 98 in which a 23-year-old allegedly drove under the influence of alcohol or some other intoxicating substance and slammed into the rear of a Volkswagen sedan, injuring three individuals in the sedan and killing one other individual.
The law firm of Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., knows the emotional and mental toll that drunk driving accidents can have on victims and their families. Our dedicated and compassionate car accident attorneys do our part to help victims of drunk driving crashes and collisions.
What is MADD Doing About Drunk Driving?
In 2006, MADD launched its Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving – an aggressive and ambitious effort focused on (1) recognizing and encouraging law enforcement detection, apprehension, and prosecution of drunk drivers, especially through highly-visible activities such as DUI checklanes; (2) encouraging states to adopt tough laws requiring those convicted of DUI offenses to install and use ignition interlock devices in their vehicles; and (3) encouraging advancements in technology that will prevent individuals with an elevated alcohol in their systems from starting a car.
- Supporting Law Enforcement Efforts: MADD supports efforts by police and sheriff departments as well as state police/highway patrol to identify and catch drunk drivers and remove them from the road. MADD also supports prosecution of these individuals. MADD believes that the more “high-profile” these investigations and prosecutions are, the more they will serve as a warning to other motorists who might have otherwise considered driving under the influence of alcohol. MADD supports the use of sobriety checkpoints, especially during times of the year in which individuals are more likely to drive under the influence.
- Encouraging the use of ignition interlock devices: MADD is also encouraging states to adopt laws requiring individuals with a drunk driving conviction to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. These devices require the driver to provide a breath sample into a machine connected to the vehicle and “prove” they are sober to drive before the device will allow the driver to start the car. Not only this, but periodically as the vehicle is in motion the driver will have to provide additional breath samples in order to continue operating the car, in order to prove that he or she did not start the car and then begin to consume alcohol. If the driver fails to provide samples when requested by the machine, or if a sample registers over .08 BAC (breath alcohol concentration), the machine disables the vehicle. These devices can also record and store BAC levels for review by probation or supervision officers, and some devices can even take and store a picture of the individual who provides each breath sample (so that someone can determine if the drunk driver is having someone else blow into the machine in order to circumvent it.)
- MADD is proud to announce that all 50 states have some form of an ignition interlock law (previously only 45 states had such a law) and 25 states have a mandatory law requiring all drunk driving offenders to have an ignition interlock law installed in their vehicles (previously only one state had such a mandatory law).
- Promoting the development of new technologies: MADD actively supports the research and development of new technologies that will be even more accurate in detecting individuals who are under the influence of alcohol and prevent them from driving a car. This new technology would be available/required for use by everyone and would be able to quickly and accurately determine if a person is too drunk to drive before that person is able to start the car. Although such technology was unheard of and considered science fiction several decades ago, two promising technologies are now being studied. One would measure the alcohol concentration in the air expelled by the driver during normal breathing – essentially an ignition interlock device that would not require the driver to provide a dedicated breath sample to a designated machine. The other is a “touch screen” that would measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration in his or her fingertips.
The Alabama car accident attorneys at Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., join with MADD in striving toward a future in which there are no more alcohol-related traffic fatalities. As we pursue compensation for our drunk driving victims and their families, many of the efforts that MADD supports can be beneficial to our clients in proving their cases. Actions and activities by law enforcement can help establish that the at-fault party was in fact under the influence of alcohol, and a driver who circumvents an ignition interlock device when he or she should have provided a sample can be considered evidence of reckless behavior.
What Can I Do To Help Reduce the Incidence Rate of Drunk Driving?
Every time an inebriated person takes a taxi home or is driven home by a designated driver as opposed to getting behind the wheel of a car is a victory for groups like MADD and Morris, King & Hodge, P.C. The campaign to end drunk driving will be won by removing one drunk driver after another from the roadways. MADD offers several tips for individuals who want to do their part to help reduce drunk driving injuries and fatalities:
- Political activism: Those interested can contact their local and state representatives and urge them to support aggressive measures aimed at deterring drunk driving. Alabama recently enacted a tough ignition interlock law, but at least half of the states in the United States still do not require certain drunk drivers to have an ignition interlock installed in their vehicles. Not only this, but some states punish drunk drivers more severely than others. In Alabama, for example, a first time drunk driving offender is punished by a fine of at least $600 and must serve no days in jail (if his or her BAC is below 0.15); in Kansas, by contrast, a first time offender’s minimum fine is $750 and an offender must serve a minimum of 48 consecutive hours in jail. Activism by local concerned citizens can encourage legislators to get tough on DUI and DUI-related crimes.
- Volunteer with MADD or support MADD financially: In order to continue its advocacy and prevention efforts, MADD depends on the willingness of volunteers to devote their time and energy to accomplishing MADD’s goals. Not only this, but as a non-profit organization MADD is dependent on the generosity of donors. Consider spending a few hours each month at your local MADD office helping out, or commit to helping your local MADD office with special events that are held throughout the year. If you cannot commit to either of these activities, consider supporting MADD financially through a gift.
- Report suspected drunk drivers that you see: Do not turn a blind eye to someone you believe is driving drunk: report that individual to law enforcement officials. Signs that someone may be under the influence of alcohol – or in medical distress – include weaving back and forth within a lane, weaving from lane to lane, leaving the roadway, unexplained acceleration and/or braking, disregarding traffic signs and signals, and poor judgment. If you suspect someone is under the influence of alcohol, call law enforcement and report the driver. Be prepared to provide a description of the car, license plate number (if possible), the behavior you are observing, and the location and direction of travel of the vehicle. Keep yourself at a safe distance from the suspected vehicle.
- Do not let friends drive drunk: Be a designated driver for your next night out and have your friends share this responsibility. Or prearrange for a taxi to take you home. Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., has in the past offered free taxi rides for individuals who consume alcohol near the New Year holiday and who need a ride home. Our firm has even paid the tow fee to have their vehicles taken and deposited wherever the driver wants so long as the driver does not get behind the wheel of a car. If you believe someone is too drunk to drive, speak up: you may prevent the next car accident fatality or injury in Alabama.
- Do not drink and drive yourself: Know your limits and drink responsibly. Have a taxi or sober friend take you home or arrange to spend the night somewhere safe. Even if you only feel “buzzed,” do not attempt to drive home.
- Keep a car accident checklist in your vehicle: A sample checklist prepared by our firm includes important information and steps drivers should take immediately after any car accident. These steps help drivers not only protect themselves and their passengers but also their legal rights and interests. Consider keeping a copy of this checklist in your car in a safe place so it can be used when necessary.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a drunk driving crash caused by an intoxicated driver, you may be entitled to financial compensation for losses and expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, lost future earnings, and pain and suffering. At Morris, Hodge & King, P.C., we cannot help you recover physically or undo the past, but we can help you and your family secure your future. Contact our firm by telephone or through our website right away and allow our caring, compassionate, and dedicated injury attorneys help you in the aftermath of your crash.
Harvey B. Morris is a lifelong Alabamian who has been practicing law in Huntsville since getting his law degree and passing the state bar in 1966.