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Child Endangerment and Driving While Impaired/Intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Identifying the Problem

The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) estimated that between 1985 and 1996 463 children 14 and younger were killed in alcohol-related car crashes. Sixty-four percent of these children were killed in the hands of their guardians; they were passengers in the impaired driver’s vehicle. More than 16,000 other children were injured. Unfortunately, the situation is worsening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s study, Child Passenger Deaths Involving Drinking Drivers – United States, 1997-2002, reported that 2,335 children were killed in alcohol related crashes between 1997 and 2002. Sixty-eight percent of them were passengers in the impaired driver’s car. Interestingly, 68 percent of the impaired drivers survived.13

Impaired driving is inherently dangerous; people who drive under the influence with children in their vehicles place the children in situations that endanger their lives. In March 2003, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) released Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver, a report urging the public to recognize impaired driving as a form of child endangerment or abuse.14 MADD advocated enhanced penalties for those who drive impaired with a child passenger. As MADD recognized, child abuse and neglect include a failure to provide necessary physical, emotional, and medical care. Still, most States fail to explicitly recognize DWI/child endangerment cases as forms of child abuse or endangerment, treating them the same way they treat every other DWI/DUI case. Regardless, prosecutors have some tools at their disposal, depending on jurisdiction.


13 “Child passenger deaths involving drinking drivers--United States, 1997-2002,” 53(5) MMWR Weekly 109 ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , February 6, 2004).

14 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver: Child Endangerment Report (2004).