Today New York Governor Patterson signed into law a bill making driving while intoxicated with a child (person under 16) in the car a felony, even for a first-time offender. If convicted, the offender could spend up to four years in jail. The new law also requires first-time DWI convicts to install an “interlock device” that blocks the engine from starting if the device detects, on the driver’s breathe, alcohol.
The bill picked up steam in the New York Senate after two New York car accidents in which children were killed by intoxicated adult drivers who crashed their car. In the first case, a woman drove the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in Westchester County and killed eight, including her own 2-year-old daughter and three other children. In the second case, a young passenger was killed by a friend’s mother driving drunk. She flipped the car on the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan. The new law is called the Child Passenger Protection Act, also known as “Leandra’s Law”, named after one of the child victims mentioned above.
New York courts convicted 37,695 intoxicated drivers last year. Nationwide, 13,000 people a year die because of drunk driving.
Last month, California passed a law making interlock devices mandatory for first-time drunk drivers in four counties in California.
All this is good news – 13,000 deaths (to say nothing of serious injuries) from drunk driving are too many. Michaels & Smolak has brought personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits for too many victims of drunk driving. In drunk driving cases, the jury is usually allowed to award only the same amount of compensation it awards in other car accident cases. I would like to see a new law allowing the jury to award treble (triple) damages for victims of drunk driving. This would help discourage people from getting behind the wheel drunk.
One day soon, I predict, there will be few drunk drivers on the roads. Technological advances will do away with them. Sensors that detect alcohol through skin are being developed for installing in steering wheels. Devices are also being developed that automatically measure alcohol in the air of a vehicle’s interior. These devices will make it impossible to start your car if you have been drinking. Let’s hope that day comes soon.