When my mother was five, she watched her best friend get killed by a drunk driver. They were on their way to the candy shop that was located right across the street from my grandparents’ house when her friend realized she forgot her jacket. When she emerged from the house with her coat in hand, she sprinted across the street to join my mother. What should have been a momentary delay in a fun afternoon, instead turned to tragedy when a woman came barreling down the street in a truck, hitting my mom’s best friend and tossing her small body 50-feet into the air.
My grandfather ran out of the house and scooped her lifeless body in his arms. What I remember most about that story was my mother’s detailed account of my grandfather washing the blood off his hands in their kitchen sink.
My mother’s best friend, as it was later determined, was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Back in 1960, when the incident occurred, the punishment for driving under the influence wasn’t as harsh as it is today. The driver who took away that young girl’s life was hit with nothing more than a lifetime of guilt — and what I hope is regret — over the tragedy that devastated a young girl’s family, my mother and of course, the little girl whose life was taken before it ever began.
This story is a graphic (and difficult) read for many, just as it is for me to write. However, graphic accounts such as these are imperative to show just how dangerous driving while under the influence can be. So often we tend to believe that tragedies will plague “the other guy.” As my mother learned the hard way, sometimes the “other guy” is us. Ever since hearing that story — and seeking the kind of mark it left on my mother more than five decades later — has made me very passionate about drunk driving and the effects it has on car accidents.
Far too many families have had to grapple with the aftermath of a drunk driving accident, trying to put together the pieces of their lives after a loved one suffers a critical or fatal injury. Research from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), for example, shows that more than 10,000 people died in accidents tied to impaired driving in 2015. Young children are often the ones hurt or killed in these instances, too, since alcohol-related accidents make up around 16% of fatal accidents involving a child.
Why Are Drunk Drivers Are More Likely to Cause Accidents?
Anyone with a high a blood alcohol content (BAC) has a decreased ability to maintain control of their car and has decreased reaction times and overall judgment behind the wheel.
The person may assume that they are fine to drive but their faculties have been significantly impaired when affected by alcohol. The word impaired comes up often in descriptions of drunk drivers because when compared with their typical ability to operate a car safely, a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not have the same capabilities and protections. This helps to explain why my mother’s friend was hit in the first place, and even more so, why the driver kept on going before changing her mind and pulling off to the side of the road.
Drunk drivers are also more likely to engage in other risky behaviors such as speeding or driving on the wrong side of the road. It is not always easy to spot a drunk driver, meaning that passengers in other vehicles or another driver may attempt to respond in mere seconds and be unable to avoid a catastrophic accident.
Civil and Criminal Penalties Associated with Drunk Driving
Drunk driving is especially important to understand when an accident occurs because those who are hurt in an accident may be curious about who will pay their medical bills. Furthermore, authorities dispatched to the scene who believe that alcohol may have been a factor in the accident itself may be interested in gathering evidence that could be used to pursue a criminal case. These situations may call for a civil, as well as a criminal claim. These are handled separately in the court system.
The criminal allegations involve the assessment of penalties associated with breaking the law directly. Although the illustration of property damage and serious bodily injury can be used to show the severity of the accident and to support the fact that the person who caused it was under the influence of alcohol, the criminal case does not mean that the person who was hurt or who lost a loved one is entitled to damages.
The criminal trial for drunk driving is handled completely separately from any civil trial. A civil trial, however, may be brought by someone who has been seriously injured because of the drunk driver’s behavior or family members who have lost a loved one allegedly because of that drunk driver’s behavior. Although this may be carried out at the same time as a criminal trial and involve many of the same facts, witnesses, and evidence, it is completely distinct from the criminal trial that is seeking to pursue the penalties against the responsible driver.
A person who is injured in a drunk driving accident needs to do more than simply reporting their suspicion that the driver was under the influence of drugs to the police officers at the scene of the incident. They should also get medical attention to identify a proper diagnosis and to consult with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer immediately regarding whether or not they are currently eligible to pursue a case.
Common Injuries in Drunk Driving Accidents
Because a driver can easily lose control of a vehicle when under the influence of alcohol, a broad range of injuries many of which may be severe, typically associated with drunk driving accidents. Many of the injuries from a drunk driving accident can have ripple effects throughout the victim’s lifetime, including costly medical bills and serious daily pain.
Drunk drivers can amplify the impacts of the accident by engaging in reckless behavior as well, and may not even realize how fast they were going for the type of behavior that they were engaged in at the time of the accident. Some of the most common severe injuries associated with drunk driving accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
- Broken bones
- Internal organ damage or bleeding
A person who has sustained serious injuries in a drunk driving accident may not even realize it until he or she has gone to the hospital to get further medical attention after the accident has occurred. Many injuries such as concussions can be easily masked by the adrenaline and shock present at the scene of the accident in the injured person’s body. This is what makes appropriate evaluation by medical professionals extremely important for anyone who may have suffered a serious injury because of a drunk driver.
It is far better to be safe than sorry for anyone who is hurt in such an accident because the timely diagnosis of these conditions can dramatically increase the chances of a full recovery. Not everyone who is hurt in a drunk driving accident, however, will be able to recover in full and move on with their life after such a serious injury. As is the tragic case with my mom’s childhood friend — a cautionary tale of the catastrophic results of driving under the influence that’s stayed with my family for more than 50 years.