Friday, 24 February 2017

Drunk Drivers who kill innocent victims                          

I have been very fortunate that during my 83 years, I have never lost a member of my family or a friend as a result of them being killed by a drunk driver. Further, I have not been involved in any manner in a car accident as a drunk driver or as the victim of a drunk driver.

How many people die each year in the world from driving drunk? The total number can be only estimated but it surely is in the range of millions and it will no doubt increase as the total world population increases. Some huge Eastern countries like China and India have increased their pace to motorization so I have to presume that many more drunk drivers in those two countries will add to the number of victims’ world-wide.

In the United States, one person is killed every 30 minutes caused by a driver driving under the influence of alcohol. Each year in the US, more than 15,000 thousand people are killed in alcohol related vehicular accidents.

Alcohol is responsible for vehicular accidents and it is the main cause for more than half of the worst traffic accidents with fatalities. Every other minute, a person is seriously injured in an alcohol related crash. Over 25% of all American people will be involved in a car accident during their life. The probability of alcohol related car accidents is 5 times more likely to occur at night. More than 65% hard-core criminals start their criminal record with driving under the influence of alcohol. You are more likely to fall asleep while driving before your fatal accident occurs because of the increased amount of alcohol in your blood. Here are some more frightening statistics. 

The rate of drunk drivers is highest among those who are between 26 to 29 year-olds which is 20.7 percent of all drivers on the road. Some other studies shows that more than 60% of serious and fatal accidents occur in the age group of 18-31, at night, near, during or after national holidays or music festivals, As many as 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on their suspended driver’s licence. In 2013, as many as 28.7 million people in the United States admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol which is more than population of Texas.  An average drunk driver has driven over 80 times while his or her driving is impaired by alcohol before his or her first arrest.

The drunk driving costs for each adult in the United States amounts to over $500 per year. Much of that are insurance rates being raised even for those who have not be convicted of drunk driving and hospital costs etc. Drunk driving costs the United States as much as $132 billion each year.

Adults drinking alcohol that makes their driving impaired, do so approximately 121 million times a year which results in over 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving each day in the United States.

In 2015, as many as 10,265 people were killed in drunk-driving accidents in the United States alone. These figures include drunk drivers and non-drunk drivers.

One would think that these foregoing figures would scare drunk drivers into not getting behind the wheel of their vehicles when their driving is impaired. It is not unlike trying to tell an alcoholic to put down the glass of wine and walk away from the table. Drunk drivers and alcoholics both are indifferent as to the effects of alcohol in their bodies and about the lives of others.

I, like millions of others are concerned about the punishments awarded to drunk drivers who kill innocent victims.        Are the punishments sufficient? Do they deter drunk driving?  The answers to those questions; No they are not if the punishments are very minor.  

Many years ago, I worked as crash reconstructionist investigator for insurance companies.  I investigated car crashes where there were injuries and/or death related to the crashes. My job was to ascertain how the crash came about, who was responsible and to determine how the injuries continued to have a physical effect on the crash victims.

On one occasion, a young male driver in his twenties drove through an intersection while his driving was impaired. He didn’t see the stop sign or if he did, he ignored it. He broadsided a car carrying a family of six from Pakistan which included a six-month-old baby. They were all killed. He was sent to prison for only three years. That would amount to him being incarcerated for only six months for each of the six victims he killed. Is that justice? I hardly think so.

After he was released from prison, he applied to another insurance company for car insurance. That firm asked me to investigate the young man and give the insurance company my opinion as to whether or not the firm should take on the risk of insuring him as a motorist.

When I visited him at his home, he was outside on the patio having beers with four of his friends. There were three empty bottles beside the man I was investigating. I asked him if he bought another car after he was released from prison. He said he did and that he enjoyed driving it. The fact that he drove his new car without public liability insurance was a sign that he was still an irresponsible young man. But what really did him in was when I asked him how he felt about the deaths of the six Pakistanis he killed. He replied with a smile; “Fuck! Who gives a shit about six Pakis being killed in a car accident?”

Needless to say, no insurance company was willing to insure him after they read my report.  If he continued to drive his car while uninsured for public liability and he was caught, the fine in the Province of Ontario is a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $25,000 and on a subsequent conviction to a fine of not less than $10,000 and not more than $50,000 and, in addition, his or her driver’s licence will be suspended for a period of not more than one year.

If he still wanted to drive his car with the proper public liability insurance coverage, he could apply to the Facility Association which is an insurance pool that all auto insurance companies belong to. It is an insurer of last resort, which makes auto insurance available to high-risk drivers who are unable to find automobile insurance in the regular market. Their premiums start around $15,000 a year. That is if they have too many traffic convictions. For someone who killed six people while impaired and after reading my report, the insurance premium that the Facility Association would give him—well it would be better off for him if he used the same amount of money to pay off the entire mortgage of a brand new house he just bought.  Further, if anyone is seriously hurt, such an offender could be sued for millions of dollars. If ordered to pay that amount, his licence will be suspended unless he or she can prove that one third of his wage or salary is being paid each month until the money is paid which includes interest.    

Margaret Mitchell, the author of the book, Gone With The Wind was 49 when she died on August 16th 1949. She was killed in a car accident when she was struck by a car while walking across a street with her husband and friends. Suddenly a speeding car that rounded a corner on their right was being driven by an off-duty taxi driver who was also intoxicated. She was hit, dragged along road while under the car and left unconscious with such severe injuries that she died from massive brain injuries at the Grady Hospital five days later.

Hugh Gravitt, the 28-year-old taxi driver while driving his own car and who was listed on police records for 22 previous traffic violations, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and he served only 10 months and 20 days in jail. In your opinion, do you think that was an appropriate sentence?  If your loved one was killed in the same manner by a drunk driver with the same number of previous traffic violations, would you be convinced that the same kind of sentence awarded to the drunk driver that killed Margaret Mitchel would be an appropriate sentence given to the drunk who killed your loved one?

Back in 2000, the maximum amount of jail time a person convicted of impaired driving causing death in Canada could receive was changed from 14 years to life; which means there is no chance of parole for 25 years for a drunk driver who kills an innocent victim.

Of course, a life sentence would apply to a drunk driver who killed only one person. Alas, in Canada it is applicable to a drunk driver who has killed six people.

As far as I know, only one person in Canada has ever received the maximum sentence of life for impaired driving causing death. He is Roger Walsh of Quebec, who fatally ran down a woman in a wheelchair in 2008 and then sped away in hopes of not being caught. The 57-year-old from St. Lazare Quebec had more than double the legal blood-alcohol limit in his system the night he struck and killed Ms. Khudaverdian (age 47) with his minivan. This was his 19th DUI conviction. His criminal history included 114 other convictions for assault and theft. The man was a danger to society and the judge obviously felt that he had to be removed from society for at least 25 years. He will be released from prison in the year, 2034 when he is 82 years of age. It is unlikely that he will be given a driver’s licence after that and if he is given one, it is also highly unlikely that he will be able to afford the huge insurance premium he would be saddled with.

I read in the paper several years ago about a drunk driver who killed an innocent victim and he only got eight years in prison. In my opinion, sentencing a drunk driver to only eight years (96 months) in prison who has killed someone is an insufficient penalty, especially if the crime was committed in Canada. In Canada, a person sent to prison is automatically released after serving only two thirds of the sentence. That means that the drunk driver that has killed your loved one will only serve 64 months (one month short of five years) in prison. Would you be satisfied with that penalty being awarded to the drunk driver who killed your loved one? 

A judge in Ontario Canada recently sentenced Marco Muzzo to 10 years in prison for his role in a crash that killed four members of the same family and seriously injured two others—  the children's grandmother and her mother, The judge said that the convicted drunk driver had decimated an entire generation.  The crash on September 27, 2015, killed three young Neville-Lake children—Daniel, 9, Harrison, 5, Milly, 2, and their grandfather, Gary Neville, 65. 

Was ten years in prison an appropriate sentence for killing four human beings? With him eligible for release after serving only two-thirds of his sentence, this means that he will be serving only 80 months (six years and eight months) in prison. It also means that for each of the four victims he killed, he will only be serving 20 months in jail. Do you honestly believe that 20 months in jail for killing a human being is an appropriate sentence? Consider this. When he killed 2-year-old Millie, he extinguished at least 80 years of her life.

In my opinion,  judges have to award very heavy sentences to drunk drivers who kill others on the road. Alas, there are a great many sob sisters who believe that society is being too harsh on drunk drivers who kill others on the road. They say that imprisoning them doesn’t work. Admittedly, there are exceptions but is it possible that imprisonment doesn’t work at all?

It never fails. These drunks are always weeping that they shouldn’t be punished so severely. After all it is not as if they drove while drunk purposely. They thought that they weren’t really drunk. The convicted drunks will say, “But I didn’t do it on purpose? It was an accident.” Would such a drunk say the same thing if another drunk accidentally fired a gun at his loved one and then said “I didn’t do it on purpose. It was an accident.”—after having killed a loved one?

The British Columbia Appeal Court has refused to water down the province's tough drunk-driving laws that allow for heavy fines, penalties and immediate roadside suspensions. The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel ended a four-year debate over laws that the government says saves lives, but are condemned by civil liberties advocates as being unconstitutional. The appeal court case involved six motorists who challenged their immediate 90-day roadside prohibitions after either blowing a "fail" or refusing to provide a breath sample.

B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an intervener in the case, argued that the drivers should have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, instead of being given automatic penalties.

But in the ruling released the Appeal Court Justice Catherine Anne Ryan agreed with a lower court that the impaired driving laws do not concern criminal matters, so the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply.

.Justice Ryan said in her written decision. "The legislation does not supplant (supersede) the Criminal Code since its purpose and effect is to regulate highways and enhance public safety," The legislation, introduced in 2010, allows police to issue driving prohibitions for up to 90 days for people who fail a roadside screening test or who refuse to take the test.

In that decision, Justice Jon Sigurdson said that a driving prohibition is the removal of a privilege aimed at preventing future harm, rather than at addressing a wrong to society. Therefore, it is not criminal in nature and does not infringe on a person's right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

B.C. Attorney General Suzanne Anton said that the impaired driving law has saved 190 lives since it was introduced. Anton said that the court’s ruling confirms that the province is entitled to make public safety rules to save lives.

With respect to the drunks who aren’t happy with that court decision, let me say this to you. “The sound you are hearing is one of my crocodile tears hitting the floor below me.” 

Andrew Murie, Chief Executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said impaired motorists are more likely to be deterred by the possibility of getting caught, not the potential consequences of a hypothetical tragedy where an innocent victim is killed. I don’t believe that. Let me give you a hypothetical question.

You were arrested as a drunk driver who hit a car and killed six people in that other car. You are now standing in front of a judge in Canada who has no qualms about sending drunk drivers who kill one person to jail for a minimum of 25 years. What would bring you more anxiety? Waiting to hear what your sentence will be or being afraid to get into your car when you are drunk? I personally believe that drunks who want to drive would be deterred from driving while drunk if they realize that they could spend a great many  years of their lives in prison if while driving drunk, they killed someone.

DUI statistics in Canada have shown that drinking and driving is extremely common in Canada. Each year, as many as 50,000 Canadians are arrested and charged for DUI, refusal to blow or having an alcoholic breath reading of over 80. Obviously, these drunk drivers were not deterred because they were afraid that they would be stopped and arrested if they got into their car while intoxicated.

If judges would give drunk drivers who kill innocent victims a minimum of twenty years in prison, that would be a real incentive for people who are intoxicated to not get into their cars and drive. 

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