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Sudden, tragic, senseless: when drunk driving kills

When someone you love dies in a drunk-driving accident, the tragedy is compounded by the fact that death came as the result of a senseless, preventable, criminal act. And the fact that the criminal in the drunk-driving accident is more likely to be an ordinary individual than a hardened felon makes your grief no easier to bear.

A national epidemic

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 16,885 people died in alcohol-related accidents in 2005, a figure that represents 39 percent of the total traffic fatalities in the U.S. that year. Approximately 13% of deaths due to drunk driving involve underage drinking.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a victims' advocacy organization, calls drunk driving "the nation's most frequently committed violent crime." And another NHTSA statistic reveals that three in ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident in their lifetimes.

Although designated drivers, sobriety checkpoints, tougher criminal penalties, and greater enforcement have led to a decline in the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the U.S. over the past decade, drunk-driving accidents still claim the life of one person every 39 minutes.

Every day, men and women go off to work and young people head out to schools and playgrounds, all expecting to return. But each day, 48 of those people, on average, are killed in drunk-driving accidents. And every day, the lives of countless survivors are shattered when they learn that someone they love will never come home.

Coping with sudden, unnecessary loss

If someone you love has died in a drunk-driving accident, you may be experiencing a nightmare worse than anything you've ever imagined. At the moment you learned of the tragedy, you were plunged into a state of shock, disbelief and horror. Eventually, as the shock wears off and you begin the process of grieving, you may wonder how you'll ever get through this ordeal.

Although common methods of coping with grief will be helpful (see 10 strategies for coping with grief), you may find that the sudden, unexpected, and senseless circumstances surrounding the death add another measure of anguish to your loss and require additional coping measures.

Consider seeking the support of others who have also lost loved ones in drunk-driving accidents. Having the opportunity to share your experience with people who truly understand what you're going through may play an important part in your healing. When you listen to their stories and identify with their feelings, you'll discover that you're not alone.

In time, if you find that your grief has become too great of a burden to bear, think about seeing a professional counselor, social worker, or pastor. They can help you get through your bereavement and provide you with resources for additional support.

Dealing with the courts

If you are closely related to the deceased, you may find yourself dealing with the court system, through either civil or criminal proceedings, possibly before the shock of the tragedy has subsided. This can be an extremely trying time, and navigating the bureaucracy can be an immense challenge.

Even if you have an attorney, enlist the help of a trusted friend. If you must go to court, bring your friend along to listen, take notes, and provide emotional support. When you leave court, you and your friend can review your notes and clarify what took place and identify any further steps that must be taken.

Healing through helping

In the early weeks and months of your bereavement, taking care of yourself and getting through each day may consume all of your strength and energy. Eventually, though, the day will come when you are ready to begin re-entry into life. Many survivors find comfort in helping others by advocating for victims' rights or lobbying for changes in drunk-driving laws.

The following links will take you to helpful resources for both support and volunteer opportunities.

MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Online

The Compassionate Friends

Help for Victims of Drunk Driving

Resources for Car Crash Survivors

Sponsored links

Further sources of information

You may find our other articles in the Grief Library section helpful too.

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