Education and Enforcement Keys to Reducing Drunk-Driving Injury Risks in 2019

CBS4 Boston rang in the new year by asking why Massachusetts does not have tougher drunk driving laws.

It’s a fair question and an admirable focus as we enter 2019.

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As we reported earlier this fall on our Boston Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog, relaxed marijuana laws and the opioid crisis have increased the risk drivers will be involved in a traffic collision with an at-fault driver impaired by drugs.

In response, Massachusetts launched a statewide campaign in December to target stoned drivers. Massachusetts has 155 officers certified as drug recognition officers and 1,402 trained in advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which is also providing funding to 139 local law enforcement departments for stringent impaired-driving enforcement efforts that will include sobriety checkpoints and increased patrols at high-incident locations.

In Massachusetts, more than 800 drivers were cited in 2018 for driving under the influence of drugs, Channel 22 News reported.

The risks are particularly high this week. Both Christmas and New Year’s Day are among the five most dangerous holidays for traffic accidents, according to the American Safety Council. Increased enforcement is scheduled to run through Jan. 1.

But it’s what we do as a state in 2019 that will have an ever greater impact on road safety.

Victims Rights After Massachusetts Drunk Driving Injury

The drugged driving issue illustrates the importance of early consultation with an experienced Massachusetts personal injury law firm. An experienced drunk driving injury lawyer in Boston can work to determine all causes of a collision. Like distracted driving or a medical emergency, it may not be immediately apparent that a collision was caused by driving under the influence of drugs. Of equal importance is identifying all at-fault parties as well as the available insurance coverage.

These collisions often involve multiple victims and limited insurance coverage. Identifying all means of recovery, and early assertion of a case for damages, offer the best chances of obtaining an adequate recovery. Young drivers, in particular, are at highest risk of drunk-driving crashes involving multiple victims who are often friends or family members. Victims in an at-fault driver’s vehicle are also typically entitled to make a claim. In addition to the at-fault driver, other responsible parties may include other drivers; a bar, restaurant or social host; a driver’s parents; and/or a victim’s own insurance company via an uninsured motorist (UM)/underinsured motorist (UIM) claim.

M.G.L. Ch. 175, Section 113L requires all Massachusetts drivers purchase UM coverage. But there is no mandate to purchase UIM coverage, which protects against drivers who lack enough insurance to cover damages. Massachusetts’ mandatory minimum auto insurance law requires bodily injury coverage of just $20,000 per person/$40,000 per accident, which is often nowhere near enough to cover victims’ damages after a serious or fatal traffic collision, particularly in cases where multiple victims are involved. This reality makes UIM coverage a vital protection for your and your family.

Tougher Laws Would Improve Massachusetts Road Safety

Mothers Against Drunk Driving ranks Massachusetts 36th when it comes to efforts to combat drunk driving. Lack of an ignition-interlock law for all offenders as well as lack of consequences for refusing sobriety tests were both cited as reasons for Massachusetts’ poor score. MADD estimates 119 motorist are killed each year in drunk driving collisions, accounting for nearly one-third of fatal traffic collisions in the Commonwealth.

Nationwide, strategies that have proven most effective in reducing the risks include zero-tolerance laws for those under 21, sobriety checkpoints, ignition interlock devices, intervention and education, mass media campaigns and administrative license revocation or suspension laws.

A decade of statistics determined more than 1,300 motorists lost their lives in Massachusetts drunk driving accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other states have been much more proactive when it comes to reducing the risks. Utah will ring in the new year by becoming the first state to reduce maximum legal blood alcohol level for drivers to .05, from .08, which is currently the limit in all 50 states.

Massachusetts, criminal penalties relating to OUI / DUI or drunk driving are governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94, § 24, and Chapter 94, § 24D. Those charged with a first offense DUI face up to 2.5 years in jail, a $5,000 fine and a 1-year license suspension. The average cost of a DUI conviction is $12,000-$15,000, including increased insurance premiums and legal fees. Job loss may also result. Mandatory jail time of between 60 days and 2.5 years apply to any subsequent offense.

Still, criminal penalties may pale in comparison to the civil liability for causing a serious or fatal collision while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Proving a defendant’s guilt in personal injury or wrongful death civil litigation requires proof by a preponderance of the evidence, as opposed to the criminal threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt. Preponderance of the evidence means proving to the jury’s satisfaction that a defendant is more likely than not to be at least partially to blame. Nor is there any requirement of criminal conviction for civil liability to apply.  Statute and common law negligence in Massachusetts permit a victim to make a claim for damages by proving an at-fault driver violated a duty of care, resulting in compensable injuries to victim.

Under G.L. Chapter 231 Sec. 85, Massachusetts law allows plaintiffs to pursue damages against any defendant more at fault in a collision. In cases where a victim is partially to blame, a resulting damage award may be proportionately reduced under the laws of comparative negligence. Even in cases where a victim is found to have violated criminal law, an injury or wrongful death claim may still be possible, as the law states such violation “shall be considered as evidence of negligence of that plaintiff, but the violation of said statute, ordinance or regulation shall not as a matter of law and for that reason alone, serve to bar a plaintiff from recovery.”

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

CSU study: One-third of young adults have ridden with an impaired driver, March 21, 2018, Colorado State University

More Blog Entries:

Boston Drunk Driving Accidents involving On-The-Job Injuries, March 21, 2018, Boston Drugged Driving Injury Attorney Blog