VI. Victims of Alcohol-Related Driving Crashes
According to 1998 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA), odds are about 3 in 10 that at some point in life
a person will be involved in an alcohol-related driving crash. More than
305,000 people were injured during 1998 in crashes in which law enforcement
officers reported that alcohol was present. NHTSA estimates that in 1999
approximately 15,786 people died in alcohol-related driving crashes.
Drunk-driving victimization is generally severe and long lasting. Research
funded by the National Institute of Mental Health concluded that 5 years
after victimization most victims remain psychologically, physically, and
financially impaired. Twenty percent of victims feel they will never again
experience a normal life.
The law enforcement officer with knowledge about the unique nature of
injury and death in alcohol-related driving crashes will be forever remembered
by victimsor survivors of victimsas a first responder who
knew how to help. And dont forget, it could just as easily have
been you who was injured or killed by the drunk driver. Awareness of this
fact will give you patience, humility, and courage.
Tips for Responding to Victims of Alcohol-Related Driving
- Avoid words and phrases that discount the victims emotional
and physical trauma. For example, do not use the words At least
and Youre lucky, as in, At least the drunk driver
wasnt speeding, or Youre lucky to be alive.
Such words will not comfort victims and may even hurt or anger them.
Victims may be in shock or feeling fear, pain, panic, and confusion.
Suggesting to victims that they are lucky or fortunate is not appropriate
at this time.
- Help the victim driver cope with feelings of guilt and failure. When
a passenger has been injured or killed, the victim driver often feels
guilty for not having avoided the crash with a last-second decision
or maneuver. Gently encourage victim drivers to approach such feelings
with rational thinking and to try to appreciate that the crash probably
could not have been avoided. Explain to victim drivers that their last-second
actions were only a small part of a complex sequence of events leading
up to the crash.
- Urge all victims to get immediate medical attention even when no signs
of injury are present. Explain to victims that alcohol-related crashes
are a leading cause of traumatic brain injury (also called closed head
injury) in which the brain is injured without a skull fracture. Victims
with such an injury may show no immediate symptoms and interact normally
with first responders. Later, however, consequences of the brain injury
may disrupt the victims life. As health problems develop, victims
and medical professionals often do not connect them back to the alcohol-related
crash. Without medical examinations at the time of the crash, these
victims may never realize that their problems stem from the crash.
- Expect ambivalent and conflicting feelings and statements from victim
passengers in the drunk drivers vehicle. It can be difficult for
them to blame the drunk driver if he or she is a friend or family member.
In addition, victim passengers may be reluctant to share information
because they worry about possible criminal justice consequences for
the offending driver.
- Make sure your attitude and choice of words reflect the reality that
drunk driving is a crime, usually a violent one, and that it has victimized
many, many people. Your actions and words should reflect your knowledge
that the consequences of drunk-driving victimization are as devastating
as those of other violent crimes. Drunk driving is a crime, not an accident.
Just as there is no such thing as a robbery accident or a rape or murder
accident, there are no drunk-driving accidents.
- Be prepared for victims to be emotional or even hostile. Sometimes,
victims strongly believe that law enforcement does not treat the crime
of drunk driving seriously enough, and they may express their views
to you. Remain nonjudgmental and polite as you accept victims
reactions and listen to them state their views. Do not argue or contradict
what victims say. Listening attentively makes victims feel they have
been heard. Show empathy for their pain and suffering, but do not say
I understand when clearly no one can.
- Support family members who want to view and spend time with the body
of their loved one. Survivors often have a strong psychological need
to get to the body of their loved one as soon as possible and spend
time with it. Be sensitive to the familys suffering. Knowing that
death from an alcoholrelated crash almost always causes violent injury
to the body, and knowing the pain such devastating images may cause
surviving family members, your initial reaction may be to refuse the
family access to the body out of a sense of compassion. However, refusal
only increases the survivors pain. First, offer to view the body
on behalf of the family and provide a detailed description to them.
If family members still wish to see and be with the body, support their
right to do so. Holding and touching a loved ones body gives the
survivors the chance to say goodbye while the victims body is
still in its natural state, before funeral home preparation. Viewing
the body can help survivors begin the process of accepting the death.
- Choose your words with care and sensitivity. For many survivors, the
distinction between died and killed takes on
important significance after a drunk-driving crash fatality. The word
died ignores the victimization. The word killed
signifies the deliberate or reckless taking of life.
- Look for and place in safekeeping any personal articles of the victims,
such as clothing and jewelry, found at the crash scene. In a survey
on satisfaction with the criminal justice systems response to
drunk-driving crashes, nearly two-thirds of the respondents were satisfied
with law enforcements investigation of cases, but many felt that
officers had failed to protect the victims personal property.
This perception was a source of hurt and bitterness.
- Review the Survivors of Homicide Victims
section for additional tips on responding to the needs of survivors
of victims killed in alcohol-related driving crashes.
|First Response to Victims of Crime