Drunk Driving is a Violent Crime

My daughter didn’t die in an accident. She was killed by a 17-year-old who made a decision to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana before getting in the driver’s seat of her car.

For years, I have made this distinction.

Drunk driving is a crime that kills nearly 11,000 people a year and injuries another 300,000. These crashes are violent. They change lives forever. And the difference between a DUI and a DUI death is the snap of a finger.

My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was rollerblading on a bike path on a sunny June afternoon in 2000 when a car full of drunk and stoned teenagers veered off the road and into her, sending her body flying yards through the air. All she could do was look up and die.

My precious 16-year-old daughter’s cause of death: Blunt force trauma. Her skull was fractured from ear to ear. After the crash, all I could do was replay the terror of my daughter’s final moments. Over and over.

The same year Helen Marie was killed, a drunk driver in Florida pleaded guilty to DUI and causing serious bodily injury to two people, for which he received a 2-1/2 year prison sentence. The case led to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that crashes like these did not amount to “crimes of violence.” To state otherwise, according to the opinion would “blur the distinction between the ‘violent’ crimes Congress sought to distinguish for heightened punishment and other crimes.”

In response, MADD called drunk driving a choice – an intentional decision that can lead to injury or death. A crime.We disagreed then, and we disagree now. After all, how can a crime that leads to a death or injury every 2 minutes be considered anything but violent.

Too often, we hear otherwise, even as deaths from this 100 percent preventable offense has risen in recent years. There is no excuse for drinking and driving. There never has been. Today, with ride sharing apps like Uber, we have more options than ever to get home safe.

On behalf of tens of thousands of drunk driving victims – on behalf of Helen Marie – I want to remind people that drunk driving is a violent crime. To imply otherwise is an insult to the victims we serve and represent. I look forward to working with all of you to make sure everyone understands the seriousness of this crime.