According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving causes an average of 32 fatalities every day in the United States — or one every 45 minutes. There were nearly 12,000 people killed in drunk driving crashes in one recent year alone, accounting for more than a quarter of all traffic fatalities that year.
When drunk driving crashes claim the lives of parents with young children, those children are often left without the financial support they need to live healthy, productive lives. However, new legislation known as Bentley’s Law seeks to remedy these tragedies. The law requires that drunk drivers pay child support to the children they’ve deprived of their parents. Tennessee has already passed the legislation, with several other states considering following its lead.
What Is Bentley’s Law?
Cecilia Williams, a resident of Missouri, came up with the idea for Bentley’s Law after her adult son was killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver, along with his fiancée and their infant child. Williams was left to raise her son’s two other children, Bentley and Mason. Bentley’s Law would hold drunk drivers liable for child maintenance payments if they cause a crash that kills the child’s parent.
Williams has emphasized that she did not propose the law solely for her own family but for all families. Her goal is to provide for children who have lost their parents due to the reckless actions of an intoxicated driver. Williams’s initiative has received widespread support from state legislatures across the country.
More than a dozen states have either introduced their own version of “Bentley’s Law” or are drafting bills modeled after Williams’s proposal. Advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have also come out in support of the initiative.
What States Require Child Support to Surviving Children of Parents Killed by Drunk Drivers?
Tennessee recently passed legislation requiring anyone who kills a parent by vehicular homicide to pay restitution to the victim’s surviving minor children until the children reach adulthood. Tennessee is the first state to pass a bill like this into law.
Child maintenance is typically determined based on parental income. But under H.B. 1834, restitution is determined by factors such as the following:
- The child’s financial needs and resources
- The finances and resources of the child’s surviving parent, if they have one
- The child’s standard of living
The Tennessee bill is entitled “Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law,” which includes the names of the children of a Tennessee police officer who was killed by a drunk driver in 2019 with the name of Cecilia Williams’s grandchild. The bill faced no opposition in the state House or Senate and passed both chambers unanimously.
Which States Are Proposing Laws Similar to Bentley’s Law?
In addition to Tennessee, other states have also been considering similar DWI laws to make drunk drivers responsible for child support if they cause the death of a person with minor children.
In New York, two lawmakers are working on bills that would make drunk drivers responsible for child support if their recklessness results in the death of a custodial parent. New York State Senator Andrew Gounardes drafted a bill inspired by the recently enacted Tennessee law.
Under Gounardes’s bill, the at-fault motorist would make child maintenance payments until the child turns 18. Anyone convicted of first- or second-degree vehicular manslaughter or aggravated vehicular homicide would be affected by the law.
Goundares’s bill matches another bill that New York State Assemblymember Desmond Meeks of Rochester previously drafted. Meeks also hopes to pass legislation that addresses non-DWI reckless driving. His law would require reckless motorists to pay child support if their actions result in the death of a minor’s parent.
Other states considering legislation modeled after Bentley’s Law include the following:
How Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. Is Taking Action Against Drunk Drivers
For decades, the attorneys at Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. have advocated for greater protections for the victims of drunk drivers. Although New Jersey’s drunk driving laws do not currently have a version of Bentley’s Law on the books, we strongly believe that this type of legislation is needed in our state. Having seen first-hand the devastation that impaired driving causes, we firmly believe that drunk drivers should be held financially liable when they rob young children of a parent. To help with these efforts, our esteemed partner Steven Benvenisti, Esq, serves as the Chair of the Board of the New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania MADD regions.
Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. also supports other initiatives to address the issue of drunk driving in New Jersey, such as the following:
- Ignition interlock devices (IIDs) — Mandatory IIDs have prevented millions of people from driving drunk since 2006. Our partner Steven Benvenisti, Esq, was responsible for recently passed legislation that requires every drunk-driving offender in the state to install an IID in their vehicle. These breathalyzer devices can be used to prevent motorists convicted of driving under the influence from operating a vehicle if they are not sober.
- Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) — DADSS is a similar technology that can be used to prevent drunk driving. DADSS systems can be breath- or touch-based and are designed to detect a driver’s BAC before they start their vehicle. This technology could also prevent motorists with DWI convictions from starting their vehicles if impaired.
- Ridesharing and smartphone apps — For anyone who finds themselves too intoxicated to get home safely on their own, we strongly urge the use of designated drivers, taxis, and ridesharing apps.
Contact the DWI Injury Attorneys at Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. Today
If you were injured in a crash involving a drunk driver or your loved one was killed due to the negligence of an impaired motorist, you could be entitled to seek compensation. Find out how our New Jersey drunk driving accident lawyers can help. Contact Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C. today for a free initial consultation to discuss the details of your case.
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