DUI Victim’s Panels Raise Awareness and Promote Humane Perspective

Not too long ago a young man was sentenced to prison for the fatal death of a good man in a drunk driving incident. It was the young man’s first and only incident with the law, not even a traffic infraction in his 14-year driving history, which resulted in a tragic transformation for all. The victim’s family suffered the loss of a fantastic person, known as a great father, loving husband, and loyal friend. At the same time, the young man had a defining moment in his life, which takes him to prison, leaving behind a cadre of people who adore him and who will miss his kindness, generosity, and loving manner.

The pain is pervasive. For most it comes from the experience of the loss of a loved one and for the young man it comes from knowing his kind soul is responsible for the taking of life.

These events are devastating all around and there are no winners. This is why I was surprised to hear about the jubilation outside of the courtroom when the young man in handcuffs was taken from the courtroom by marshals to begin his journey behind bars. It is very understandable that the victim’s family would experience a sense of righteous vindication upon the imposition of sentence. This sense of “closure” would bring a welcome relief to a painful chapter in the life of those left behind. Anyone can appreciate such a moment.

However, what happen next was incomprehensible. A few piercing words rose from the crowd above those celebrating in complete jubilation: “…let’s go have a drink and celebrate…” It must have been a mistake. How could any person witnessing the events inside the courtroom and knowing how alcohol played a role in ruining two lives speak such words? I suppose sometimes we loose perspective on things and when humanity needs to be humane and humanitarian, we find the darkest side of ourselves.

Personal responsibility and self reflection is required. One program that could bring sound perspective on the loss experienced by all and raise our collective awareness to the dangers of driving after drinking is the DUI Victim’s Panel. These panels are staffed by persons who were either victims, related to victims, or accused of alcohol offenses. They share with the audience heart wrenching stories that leave a strong impression with well meaning people that it is a poor choice to mix alcohol and with driving.

The Legislature should consider requiring all first time drivers and/or licensees to attend a session of the DUI Victim’s Panel. It should also bring these programs into high schools and the workplace. Instead of promoting laws that do not work, it should consider programs that do work!