License to Kill: When Drunk Driving Turns Deadly

The US has liberal driving license laws for its young people with some states offering supervised driving licenses from the age of 14. It is also possible for young teens to apply for a hardship driver’s license if they have no other means of getting to school or work and, if they are successful in their application, this allows them to drive unsupervised from as young as 14. In some areas of America, particularly in rural areas, it can be difficult to go anywhere without a motor vehicle so there are undoubtedly benefits to the scheme. However, in young and inexperienced hands a car can turn into a ruthless killing machine. The risk of car accidents in the 16-19 year old age group is higher than in any other group and drivers of this age are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash compared with drivers 20 years old and over. One of the reasons for this is alcohol abuse. In 2010, 56% of 15-20 year olds who were killed in car accidents were drinking while driving and not wearing a seat belt. 27 people in the US die every day as a result of drink driving. A third of those facing lawsuits or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders.

Why are Teens More Dangerous Drivers?

The pre-frontal cortex of the brain – the area that deals with inhibitions and risk taking – is not even fully matured until the age of 25 which may explain why many teens behave recklessly. The functions of the pre-frontal cortex include focusing attention, problem solving, evaluating consequences, inhibition of inappropriate or impulsive behavior and making predictions. Prior to full maturation these functions are still being fine tuned and the teen may knowingly engage in risky behavior because they fail to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions or to understand just how risky it is.

If the teen driver has male passengers it can also influence how he drives and increase the likelihood of drink driving. Due to this, some campaigners want the legal driving age to be increased. Tragically it isn’t only the driver who is at risk of injury or death from drink driving – passengers and other road users are equally at risk. There were 211 deaths of children under 14 in 2010 and over half the deaths were caused by drunk driving.

Preventing Accidents Caused by Drink Driving

Giving young people more comprehensive driving lessons and stricter licensing terms can lessen injuries and fatal crashes. Delaying the issue of a full license may also help. By giving the teen a provisional or graduated license he or she can learn to drive sensibly without being given full freedom. Other ideas for accident prevention include stricter enforcement of drink driving limits (the blood alcohol should be no higher than 0.08%) and increasing the minimum legal drinking age, traffic stops to breath test drivers and the immediate suspension of a person’s license if they are found to be intoxicated while driving. If the teen has been habitually abusing alcohol, there are alcohol recovery programs he can attend to help him beat his addiction before he attempts to drive a car. Raising the price of alcohol may also limit its availability to younger drivers and continuing to develop effective educational programs that teach new drivers to assess the outcomes of their actions. For instance, teaching them the consequences of being caught intoxicated at the wheel, including:

  • The possibility of injuring someone
  • The removal of their vehicle
  • A criminal record
  • Possible dismissal by their employer
  • Difficulty in obtaining further jobs due to having a criminal record
  • Financial problems
  • Depending on the severity of the situation, a possible custodial sentence.

Risks taken when deciding to drink and drive can have lifelong implications and limit the person’s career success and chance of happiness. Powerful and concise ways to convey this to young people could be enough motivation for them to think twice.

Legal Re-Dress for the Victim

Victims of drunk drivers – or the families of victims if they are deceased – can also seek legal re-dress to compensate them for their loss or injuries.

If the victim was killed, their family can sue for wrongful death – not only punish the perpetrator but also to gain financial assistance with any hospital bills, loss of earnings and funeral expenses. If the victim survived, they can make a personal injury claim to compensate them for any disability, medical expenses, time absent from work and emotional trauma they may have suffered as a result of the accident.

Businesses that sell alcohol may also be held accountable if it can be proved that the vendor sold the alcohol irresponsibly, for instance, to a minor, to someone who was noticeably intoxicated or to a regularly drunk customer. This is called the Dram Shop Act and encourages businesses to put the general public before profit. By holding retail outlets responsible for their selling habits, the victim is helping to protect other citizens from going through the tragedy of drunk driving.