MADD fighting to save kids

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   In response to information in a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) organization is calling on Washington for tougher child endangerment laws.
   According to the CDC report, 2,335 children died between 1997 and 2002 as the result of motor vehicle accidents where at least one of the drivers involved was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Of those children who were killed, an estimated 68 percent of them were passengers in a vehicle operated by an impaired driver.
   In response to the CDC findings, MADD released a report titled "Child Endangerment Report: Every Child Deserves a Designated Driver" which outlines weaknesses in state laws against child endangerment and also calls for increased penalties and more awareness and training about the problem. The report issued by MADD found that drivers who are caught drinking and driving with a child in the vehicle were often not charged with child endangerment and that when such charges were placed, they were later dismissed or reduced through plea-bargaining.
   MADD's National President, Wendy J. Hamilton, said both the CDC report and the one issued by her organization highlight the dangers faced by large numbers of children across the nation. "No child should be put at risk by having to ride in the car with a drinking driver," Hamilton said. "We call on lawmakers and public safety officials to do more to stop drivers from taking deadly chances with the lives of kids.
   "Driving intoxicated with kids in the car is a form of child abuse pure and simple. It must not be tolerated by lawmakers, communities or family members."
   The CDC study found that a majority of children who died in alcohol-related crashes were not riding in proper child-safety restraints. Of the 1,451 children killed in such motor vehicle accidents about whom there was information available about child-safety restraints, only 32 percent, or 466, were properly buckled up. The study also found that the majority of impaired drivers survived those crashes, which suggests that more children may have survived if the driver had placed them in appropriate child safety seat equipment, according to the CDC report.
   "Interventions such as sobriety checkpoints and vigorous enforcement of child safety seat and seat belt laws save lives. We also know that primary seat belt laws, which allow police to stop and ticket a motorist solely for being unbelted, work to reduce crash deaths," said Sue Binder, MD, CDC Injury Center Director, in a statement released with the CDC report.
   "Broader use of community-based interventions such as these will help protect our nation's children from the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving."
   The report released by MADD relates the story of 5-year-old Carlie McDonald of Wyoming, who was killed on Jan. 1, 1998 when her mother crashed her vehicle while driving impaired. According to the report, McDonald's mother was driving with a blood-alcohol content level of 0.22, more than twice the legal limit, and Carlie had been placed in the front seat of the vehicle while her safety booster seat remained unused in the back seat of the vehicle.
   "Nobody should have to go through what I have after I lost Carlie," said McDonald's father, Lt. Carl McDonald, of the Wyoming Highway Patrol. "Adults who drink have no business driving in any circumstances. But getting behind the wheel drunk with a child in the car is a crime that needs to be enforced and punished severely."