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The federal Center for Disease Control estimates that alcohol is involved in car crashes that kill someone in the United States every 13 minutes. That equals more than 15,000 deaths per year due to drunk driving accidents. The government has made a number of recommendations to reduce alcohol-related deaths and injuries on the roadway.

It pressured states – with the threat of losing federal money – to lower the legal blood alcohol level while driving, from 0.10% to 0.08%. Other recommendations included better training for anyone serving liquor, especially bartenders, and zero tolerance for young drivers; i.e., license revocation on the first offense. A more controversial recommendation, challenged by some civil liberties groups, included more random breath testing and sobriety checkpoints. Opponents of such measures worry about racial profiling. The whole issue of the legitimacy of profiling – whether to do it, how, and when, has of course taken on much more urgency since 9/11.

A sad reality is that many drunk drivers who kill and maim on the highways are repeat offenders carrying little or no insurance. Whenever there is a serious drunk driving accident, especially if the perpetrator is underinsured, it is essential to investigate where the driver obtained his liquor. It may be possible to bring a “dram shop” action, if the driver was served alcohol at a bar or restaurant when it should have been obvious he was drunk. If liquor was given to a minor by an adult, that adult will be liable, though most homeowner’s insurance policies will exclude coverage for criminal acts. When the drunk driver is uninsured or underinsured, there may be no viable civil recourse unless a culpable party with assets or insurance can be found.

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