(UnitedVoice.com) – Over the last 40 years, lawmakers have waged war on drunk driving. While the number of perpetrators is lower than decades ago, it’s still a problem for society. In 1982, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that 10,142 people died from drunk driving. All of them were preventable. In 2019, nearly 28 people per day died from a drunk-driving accident. That’s approximately one person every 52 minutes.
While those involved in a drunk-driving crash face the consequences in many forms, one vulnerable group received little to no attention — now one state is fighting back and upping the ante. In Tennessee, lawmakers are pushing a new law to protect young children who lose a parent to a drunk driving incident. Many believe a child should not be destined for poverty because they lost a parent to a drunk driver.
New Law Would Provide Restitution to Children
In April 2021, Cecilia Williams lost her son, his fiancée, and their 4-month-old son to a drunk driver in Missouri. Officials charged David Thurby with three counts of Driving While Intoxicated (DWI)in the death of another. Authorities said that his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit.
Williams noted Thurby’s actions left her two grandsons, 5-year-old Bentley and 3-year-old Mason, orphaned. The grandmother said those who do this to families should be financially responsible for the outcomes of their choices. She proposed to her state legislature an idea to allow a court to garnish a convicted DWI murderer’s wages and send them to the victim’s children.
When Williams’ cousin Diane Sutton learned about the idea, she brought it to her state representative in Tennessee. It wasn’t long after that Tennessee State Rep. Mark Hall (R) introduced the bill in the legislature. He named it Bentley’s Law after Cecilia Williams’ grandson.
Tennessee Proposes Inaugural Victim Compensation Law
On Monday, February 28, the Tennessee House passed Bentley’s Law unanimously. It seeks to hold drunk drivers accountable if they kill a parent. The law would force a convicted DWI murderer to pay child support for surviving children until they reach 18 years of age and graduate from high school. A judge would consider the child’s needs and determine the payment amounts. Among factors considered would be the resources of a surviving spouse and the standard of living the survivors are accustomed to.
If the convicted drunk driver can’t meet his court-ordered obligation to the child(ren), the felon would be given a year from the time they are released from prison to start payments. If the child reaches 18 years of age and the defendant hasn’t paid in full, they must continue payments until they pay off their arrears.
If the State Senate passes Bentley’s Law and the governor signs it into law, it will be the first of its kind in the nation. Williams hopes it will become a rallying cry nationwide in the fight against drunk driving.
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