This article is part of a series on driving under the influence (DUI) which highlights numerous reasons why our firm almost always sues the drunk driver. This article focuses on some of my experiences suing drunk drivers and how I came to join Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). What I’ve learned through these experiences is that the vast majority of drunk drivers drive under the influence on a regular basis. Over time, this means that a person who is arrested for DUI or causes a wreck when drunk has most likely driven under the influence hundreds or even thousands of times before they got caught.
Years ago, after suing a few drunk drivers, I sued a drunk driver who hit our client and it was the drunk driver’s second offense. He had been convicted of DUI some years before in my county. I knew that all the criminal judges in my county sentenced every drunk driver who was convicted of DUI in the same fashion, and the sentence included an order to attend a short seminar called the Victim Impact Panel. Most judges in Texas and Oklahoma order drunk drivers to attend a Victim Impact Panel in their county. The Victim Impact Panel (VIP) is a presentation which is organized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. MADD recruits a victim who has either been seriously injured by a drunk driver or had a family member killed by a drunk driver to tell everyone convicted of DUI or DWI about the victim’s injuries or loss.
Although I had not attended the VIP in my county, I knew there was most likely a tragic story that was told to everyone convicted of DUI. I knew the drunk driver who I was suing heard that story because he was sentenced to attend the VIP after his first offense. Even though he heard that story, he chose to drive under the influence again. I wanted to know what the drunk driver heard at the VIP so I could force him to admit that he knew all the dangers associated with driving under the influence but chose to do it again.
The next Saturday I went to the VIP to hear the presentation and it was excellent. Ron Barton is the victim who puts on the VIP in my area and his story is very compelling. His daughter and her grandmother were horribly killed by a drunk driver. I prepared for the seminar by reading MADD materials which discuss the costs of DUI in terms of criminal fines and fees. I knew those types of fines and fees are really small compared to some of the civil jury verdicts rendered against drunk drivers. After the seminar, I spoke to Ron and he invited me to join MADD and speak at the next VIP about the civil liability associated with drunk driving. I’ve been speaking monthly at that seminar ever since.
When reading MADD’s materials there was one statistic that jumped off the page. The statistic had to do with how many times the average drunk driver drives under the influence before they get arrested the first time. According to MADD, the average drunk driver drives under the influence 80 times before they get arrested. I found this number hard to believe for a few reasons. I couldn’t understand how MADD came to the conclusion. What data were they relying upon to conclude the average number of times a person drove drunk? I also found the stat hard to believe because the number was so high. How can someone drive drunk 80 times?
At the next VIP, I put the question to the panel of attendants. How many times did they think the average drunk driver drives under the influence before they get arrested the first time? A middle-aged lady raised her hand and said, “Hundreds.” I asked her to tell me about her answer and she responded honestly, telling the group she had been drinking wine on a regular basis since high school and had driven under the influence hundreds of times and never got caught until she was in her forties.
I’ve continued to ask that question at every VIP over the years and the panel members always give me the same response. The number is usually greater than one hundred and lower than one thousand. The VIP attendants (who all recently got caught driving under the influence) are telling me on a consistent basis that the MADD statistic is valid. But how did MADD get the stat?
The answer is that the stat is derived from the CDC (the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). The CDC conducts a systematic study of drunk driving because it accounts for a significant percentage of traffic wrecks, injuries, and fatalities. In 2013, for instance, over 10,000 people died in traffic wrecks where one of the driver’s blood alcohol content exceeded .08 g/dl (this BAC defines drunk driving per se in many jurisdictions). As part of their study, the CDC conducts large-scale random phone surveys asking people across the US how many times in the last thirty days they have driven when they were impaired by alcohol. From this data, the CDC can estimate the number of times drunk driving occurs across the population. The number is shockingly high. In 2015, the CDC estimated that over 121 million episodes of DUI occurred. Every year the CDC conducts a phone poll and comes to a similar conclusion. MADD bases its stat on this research.
The CDC survey and the honest answers from the VIP attendants caused me to change my mind about the MADD stat. Not only do I believe the stat, I think it’s low. There is a substantial group of people in any given community that drive under the influence frequently. People in this group have driven under the influence on a regular basis for years, most likely weekly or several days a week. They are fortunate to have never been pulled over or hit someone or something, and so they believe that they can drive drunk and make it to their destination. They have driven under the influence so many times that they believe driving under the influence is permissible. If you have been hit by a drunk driver, you can rest assured this isn’t the first time the person drove under the influence.
About the Author
Christopher Rehmet is the lead litigator at Tate Rehmet Law Office and has been practicing the area of personal injury for twenty years. Prior to practicing as a civil litigator, he was a prosecuting attorney in a District Attorney’s office.