IN JANUARY 2019, a judge in Idaho sentenced a man who had a blood alcohol concentration nearly three times the legal limit when he struck and killed a woman crossing the road to probation. In Minnesota during July of that year, a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08 who killed a woman out for a walk had to spend 150 days in a county workhouse after pleading guilty to criminal vehicular homicide--and this past February, a Colorado man who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide while under the influence of drugs and alcohol in the death of his girlfriend got eight years of community corrections instead of the prison time the victim's family asked for.
While most states have passed laws legally protecting the rights of crime victims, drunk drivers who kill may face mandatory jail time in just 14 states. Only eight states have laws that both protect the rights of victims of fatal drunk driving crashes and ensure that these offenders serve some jail time. Additionally, sentences in drunk driving death cases can be dramatically disparate, according to a look at 100 sentences handed down to impaired drivers who killed between January 2019 and March 2020. For example, in cases where a drunk driver caused one death, sentences ranged from no jail time to 26 years. As the number of fatalities rise in drunk driving crashes, so too does the average length of the sentence, although even these can vary by decades.
"MADD advocates on behalf of DUI victims and calls on judges and prosecutors to treat these cases like the violent crimes that they are," says Mothers Against Drunk Driving National President Helen Witty, whose 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was killed by an alcohol- and marijuana-impaired driver in 2000. "The data tells us that although we have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go when it comes to protecting victims' rights and recognizing drunk driving as a crime--not an accident or a mistake."
Victim advocacy is a cornerstone of MADD, which has served nearly 1,000,000 victims free of charge since it was founded by a grieving mother 40 years ago. MADD also has advocated for changes to the drunk driving law, including the minimum 21 drinking age law that has saved nearly 32,000 lives, a national standard of .08 BAC for driving under the influence, and ignition interlocks for drunk driving offenders.
"MADD has helped change the culture around drunk driving," Witty stresses. "Thanks to MADD, it is simply no longer...