In Florida, drunk drivers cause more than 20,000 pedestrians, motorcycle, car and truck accidents each year-killing 1000 people. Losing a loved one to a drunk driver is a needles tragedy, that leaves families shattered emotionally and financially. Why is stopping Florida’s drunk driving accidents and fatalities so difficult?
Traditionally, we have tried to prevent alcohol related accidents with criminal convictions and use of the media. For instance, in Florida over 30,000 people a year are convicted for Driving Under the Influence. Most convictions occur in Tampa (3,256), Miami-Dade (2,274) and Duval (2,222). In spite of high conviction rates, Florida’s alcohol related accidents, injuries and deaths continue to rise.
Media’s role has played a significant role in DUI prevention by using billboards and television commercials paid primarily by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). This organization provides valuable resources for drunk and distracted driving prevention, data collection and lobbies Washington for additional funding. Recently, MADD called upon the Senate to consolidate the multiple Federal driving safety programs into the newly enacted transportation legislation MAP-21.
One of the primary goals of MAP-21 will be to incentivize states to mandate ignition interlock laws aimed at all convicted drunk drivers. Ignition interlocks are installed in vehicles to detect breath alcohol levels and prevent a car from starting if it a driver’s blood alcohol concentration exceeds a pre-set limit. The technology is the same that is used by Florida law enforcement during roadside screenings. Florida Statute §316.193 requires that interlock devices be installed on any car used by a person arrested and convicted of Driving Under the Influence after July 1, 2002.
Unfortunately, increased DUI convictions, media attention and the use of interlocks is not working. It is time we focus on the real root cause of drunk driving- alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease that afflicts nearly 14 million Americans. According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an effective and underutilized way to stop DUI accidents in Florida would be to provide more effective screening and treating of alcoholism by doctors and nurses.
For instance, America’s primary care doctors and nurses are in an ideal position to screen patients and intervene for those who are abusing alcohol. This should be done at yearly check-ups or anytime they have patient interaction by determining if the patient is drinking too much. Many people are often surprised to learn how much alcohol they actually consume in a given week. Since the amount of liquid in a glass, can or bottle does not reflect the amount of alcohol one drinks. For example, all beers, wine and spirits have different percentages of alcohol.
According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, men who consume in excess of 14 drinks per week and women who consume in excess of 7 drinks a week are at risk. If it is deemed that the patient is at risk for alcohol abuse the doctor should provide counseling and intervention.
Florida’s wrongful death law §768.21 provides additional protection for those injured or killed by drunk drivers by allowing victims the right to claim punitive damages to punish the wrongdoer. In Florida driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of .08 is considered intoxicated. §768.736 does not limit the amount of punitive damages that the injured is entitled to recover against a drunk driver.
Punitive damages are available if you have been hit by a drunk driver or a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. It is important to hire a Miami lawyer who sues drunk truck drivers to obtain the full value of your case.
Those injured while intoxicated may not be able to sue for an injury or death in Florida. Florida Statute §768.36(2) prevents the injured from recovering for his or her loss if at the time of the accident, the plaintiff was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and as a result is more than 50 percent at fault for his or her own harm.