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When Does DUI Become Child Endangerment?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Driving drunk? Bad idea. Driving drunk with a child in the car? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Drunk driving exposes you and other drivers to potentially deadly accidents, and drunk driving with kids in the vehicle puts them at risk as well.

In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that almost 20 percent of all traffic fatalities involving children 14 and younger were alcohol-related. Some states have responded by adding severe penalties to their DUI statutes if a child is in the car at the time, and other states apply child abuse statutes to cases of drunk driving. Here's when a DUI becomes child endangerment.

Aggravated, Extreme, Felony DUI

As you're probably aware, there can be different levels of DUI offenses. In some cases, this can depend on your blood alcohol content at the time you were driving. For example, you can still get charged with a DUI if your BAC is under .08 percent, but prosecutors might offer a plea bargain to another, related charge like reckless driving. But a BAC over twice the legal limit can mean a charge of extreme or aggravated DUI.

Having a child in the car can also be an aggravating factor in DUI charging and sentencing. Penalties for extreme DUIs are even more severe than standard DUIs, and having a child in the car could even bump what is normally a misdemeanor up to felony DUI. And if, god forbid, a child in the vehicle is killed in an accident, the DUI could be charged as murder.

Child Abuse and Endangerment

Parents, custodians, and caregivers are all responsible for a minor child's well-being. Any intentional, careless, or negligent act that results in imminent risk or serious harm to a child's health and welfare can be charged as child abuse or child endangerment, depending on state laws. Clearly, driving drunk with a minor child in the car risks serious injury to the child, even if your intention is to get home safe.

On top of a DUI with a child in the car leading to extreme or felony DUI charges as well as child endangerment or abuse charges, a DUI with children involved could also trigger a child protective services investigation. A Florida woman was investigated by CPS after crashing into a house with three 16-year-olds in the car.

So your best policy always is to not drive drunk. Especially don't drive drunk if you need to drive children somewhere. And if you are charged with a DUI when kids are in the car, you should contact an experienced DUI attorney immediately.

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