As a percentage of all traffic fatalities, those caused by drunk drivers are decreasing. That’s great news, but drunk-driving accidents still account for 29% of all traffic fatalities.
Drunk driving is still a huge problem. In 2018, an alcohol-related fatality occurred about every 50 seconds in the United States. That’s 29 deaths a day.
And that only accounts for fatalities. Many thousands more people are injured each year due to drunk drivers.
And what about drugged driving? That, unfortunately, appears to be increasing. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of drivers who were killed with known positive drug tests rose from 28% to 44%. The drugs involved were both prescription and illicit, including:
- Stimulants (e.g., methamphetamine, cocaine)
- Depressants (e.g., Valium, Xanax)
- Narcotic painkillers (opioids, heroin)
- Dissociative anesthetics (e.g., ketamine, PCP)
- A combination of drugs
Combining drugs, even at low levels, significantly increases crash risk.
So does driving with a high blood alcohol content (BAC), such as 0.15%. Yet, nationwide, about 19% of drunk driving fatalities involve someone who is nearly twice the legal limit.
Some drunk drivers are higher risk than others
While any drunk driver can be dangerous, there are some drivers who are considered even higher risk. These high-risk impaired drivers seem to lack the self-control to resist driving while impaired.
They are defined as someone who is likely to drive with a BAC of 0.15% or higher, or after consuming drugs or alcohol and drugs, who has done so repeatedly as shown by having more than one DUI arrest.
Many of these drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), have a substance use disorder and also a mental health disorder. And, those who have a mental health disorder have been shown to be more likely to reoffend.
Yet our justice system tends to treat each DUI offense as a separate event and fails to take into account the disorders that may be contributing to the problem. The substance abuse and mental health issues go ignored, untreated and unmonitored, even when the defendant fails to comply with their sentence. It’s a dangerous cycle that puts everyone at risk.
What can be done to address high-risk impaired drivers?
The GHSA recommends several changes in policy to address the problem. For one thing, it recommends that state highway safety offices begin to take a more holistic approach to the high-risk individual’s situation.
That may be contrary to the traditional approach of levying fines and putting drivers in jail. This is because the current system aims punishment at the driver’s immediate behavior instead of working toward the long-term behavioral changes that the driver needs to make in order to avoid reoffending.
The organization also recommends that state and local task forces be tapped to identify gaps in the system and to provide resources to expand existing initiatives that show promise. It is crucial to evaluate existing programs and best practices to identify promising approaches and then fund them.
What can you do about the driver that hit you?
It’s all very interesting to say we need to change our approach toward high-risk impaired drivers, but what can we do, practically, to address the real harm of a drunk driving incident?
One possibility is to file a lawsuit against the drunk driver. This can help to hold the person responsible for their behavior by placing a financial penalty on it. It also serves to compensate the victims for their pain and losses.
Talk to a lawyer about your situation and what happened to you. You may have more legal options than you think.