Monday, January 25, 2010

Drunk driver sentenced for running down cyclists

There are some common factors in the sentencings mentioned below. Many of the drivers claim their wreckless driving was just "an accident," and judgement and sentencing seems to be helped by factors beyond just inattentive driving: the drivers were drunk or texting.

I'm not sure what to think of adding rules prohibiting every possible scenario for distracted driving. Too many people who are sober get off completely free in crashes, though you'd think they have less of an excuse to hit somebody. Should aggravating circumstances (intoxication, mobile device use) be necessary for conviction when somebody dies?

A Massachusetts man who drove drunk and ran down two bicyclists in Concord, N.H., will spend between two and seven years in prison.
More at Man Sentenced For Running Down NH Bicyclists. H/T Chris M.

Driver in fatal hit and run who was texting sentenced to five years; first conviction under new distracted driving ordinance in Washington state. See also Biking Bis.

Then there's the one about the off duty cop who struck and killed a pedestrian and refused a blood alcohol test. The dead pedestrian, who was unable to consent to the test, reportedly had a BAC of .22. She was hailing a cab (you know, because she was too drunk to drive), while the driver, who witnesses say was "visibly drunk," ran her over. Should he get out of jail free because his victim was also drunk?


Steven Vance said...

Thanks for posting about distracted driving. Keep it up, please.

I thought the court was for deciding on what the offender was cited for doing, not for what the victim was doing.

Someone on Streetsblog asked how the deceased victim's BAC level was leaked, probably violating doctor/patient confidentiality.

Anonymous said...

Everyone has made a careless mistake while driving sober - that's a position a juror can feel sympathy for, and while the outcome (a homicide) is terrible, we can imagine ourselves in the shoes of the driver.

An intoxicated driver made a choice to behave carelessly. We view it less as a mistake and more as a decision, because in this day and age everybody knows the dangers of drunk driving. As a result, courts and jurors tend to bring down the hammer.

I'm reluctant to say that every homicide caused by careless driving should be prosecuted, and I'll give an extreme example to illustrate the point.

Suppose a construction worker on a beam high above New York City accidentally drops a wrench. It plummets to the ground, strikes and kills a grandmother. His mistake was carelessness, but it cost someone her life. Tragically aware of his clumsiness he would likely never make that mistake again. Judicial intervention is likely not necessary to reform him, protect the public in the future, or prevent others from making the same mistake.

Now suppose that construction worker was on that beam taking pulls from a flask. He chose to become intoxicated in a dangerous environment and thereby putting lives at risk. He made a mistake before he ever bumped the wrench. He could have stayed sober, he could have stayed on the ground, but he chose put to people's life in danger. Statistics (not cited here, so take my words with a grain of salt) indicate a high level of recividity in drunk drivers (which is why we have such extreme escalation of punishments for second and third strike offenders). Judicial intervention is likely necessary to correct this man's behavior, to protect the public, and hopefully to avert future potential offenders.

Essentially it all comes down to the balance between the actions the person committed and the cost of those actions to the public. The courts have enough criminals to deal with whose actions match their cost, and many people whose actions were truly, purely accidental will reform themselves.

As sad as it is for the family and friends of the victim and for the community in general, most people do not want to see every accidental homicide prosecuted.

Duncan Watson said...

Driver's need to pay for their mistakes. The status quo is now bad enough that nearly everyone who kills via motor vehicle gets off scott free.

I don't think the BAC of the victim should matter if the victim is a ped or cyclist and was otherwise obeying the law. Though I don't drink it benefits society if walking, cycling and mass transit are the preferred mode of transportation by drunks.

Drunk Driving is one of the only ways that motorists are actually held accountable. Hit and Runs have a reasonable chance of being prosecuted as well. If you are a motorist and you hit something, pull over, claim that "he/she/it just came out of nowhere and I couldn't avoid them". Home free.

It was the part of the plot of 60s era detective novels that the bad guys would just get drunk and run over people to murder them without consequences. Now avoid the drinking and attendant liver damage, you still get away with it.

Mark said...

One issue is that we have a huge number of repeat offenders, and the current system is not effective in keeping a minority of bad drivers off the roads. One site: looks at Maine, and calculates the cost per mile to society of driving with various BACs - they figure that the overall cost of driving a mile with a BAC of 0.10 and above is $4.70, where the cost per mile with a BAC of 0.00 is $0.10.

Drunk and distracted driving is costing us $$ and lives, yet we continue to tolerate it. It is too late once someone has been killed - take away the driving privilege for a year on the first offense of DUI, and for life on the second offense. If someone drives with a suspended license, put them in jail until the end of the suspension.

295bus said...

"Distracted" is probably just to vague. Would it include arguing with a passenger?

Texting obviously takes your eyes off the road *way* too long to be safe. So does dialing a phone. Changing radio stations? Probably not. Picking a CD? Probably yes. Eating/drinking/smoking? Hmm.

Probably the only way to make distractions actually prosecutable is just to make a list of what's allowed and what's not.

clever-title said...

The problem with prohibiting certain activities (e.g driving with > an arbitrary BAC, using a handheld phone, etc.) is that it implies that everything that isn't specifically prohibited is OK (e.g. killing a pedestrian while sober & not using a phone). Too many drivers operate this way, and too many juries agree. What we need are performance standards - drivers must maintain control of their vehicles at all time. Then you can prosecute drivers for the things they do with the multi-ton weapon, rather than what's in their blood or against their ears.