Driving under the influence is always a genuinely bad idea, but if someone drives under the influence with a child in the car, it’s even worse. Driving under the influence exposes all of us to potentially fatal collisions, and driving drunk with kids in the car risks their lives as well. There is never, ever an excuse for putting children at risk. If a driver arrested for driving under the influence has a child as a passenger, can that driver also be charged with child endangerment?

Nearly twenty percent of all traffic deaths of children age 14 and younger were alcohol-related in 2014, according to the findings of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Some states are responding by adding additional penalties to their DUI laws if a child is in the car of a drunk driver. Other states have started applying their child abuse laws to drunk driving cases. Let’s take a close look at the legal relationship between driving under the influence and child endangerment.

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As most of us already know, there are several different types of DUI offenses. If you are “just” over the limit and it is your first offense, in most states that is a misdemeanor. If you are two or three times over the limit, in most states, that is a more serious charge. If you cause an accident or injuries while driving under the influence, or if it’s your second or third offense, the penalties in most states are even more severe. If you look at the DUI statutes in different states, you will see phrases like “aggravated” DUI, “extreme” DUI, or DUI “with enhancements.”

WHAT CHARGES CAN YOU FACE IF YOU DRIVE DRUNK WITH A CHILD?

Having a child in the car with you will always be a consideration for prosecutors in DUI cases and for judges handing down DUI sentences. In some states, a child in the car could even bump what is normally a misdemeanor DUI charge up to a felony DUI charge. If a minor child in a vehicle with an impaired driver is killed in a traffic collision, in some cases, and in some states, second-degree murder could be the charge that’s filed.

Parents, guardians, and caregivers are at all times legally obligated to take all necessary and reasonable measures to ensure a child’s safety. Any intentional or negligent action (or failure to take action) that results in imminent risk or harm to a child can be prosecuted as child endangerment or as child abuse, depending on the details of each state’s laws. Even if your clear intention is to get home safely, driving under the influence with a child in the car risks the child’s life and qualifies the driver for serious criminal charges.

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Additionally, being charged with driving under the influence with a child in the car can trigger a protective services investigation, and it’s conceivable that a child could be removed from the home and custody of a parent who is a habitual drunk driver. A Florida woman, for example, was investigated by the state’s Child Protective Services agency after crashing into a house while driving under the influence with three teens in the car.

In July, a Los Angeles woman, 36-year-old Erica Lynn Naranjo, was driving while intoxicated with four children who were not wearing seat belts or using booster seats in the car. She lost control and crashed into a house in South Los Angeles, killing one of the children, police said. Ms. Naranjo was booked into the Los Angeles County Jail on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence.

WHAT ARE WASHINGTON’S LAWS REGARDING CHILDREN AND DUI?

In the state of Washington, a conviction for a first-offense, misdemeanor DUI can land you in jail for anywhere from a day to a year. You can be fined up to $5,000.00, your license can be suspended for up to a year, and you’ll be ordered to install an ignition interlock device in your personal vehicle when your license suspension is lifted. Defendants convicted for subsequent driving under the influence offenses receive stiffer penalties.

Since 2011, the state of Washington requires mandatory reporting if a child under the age of 13 is in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated parent, caregiver, or guardian. If the arresting police officer believes that the child is at risk, that officer has the authority to take the child into emergency custody. Furthermore, a law enforcement officer in this state must promptly notify child protective services whenever a child is present in a vehicle being driven by his or her parent, guardian, legal custodian, sibling, or half-sibling and that person is being arrested for a drug or alcohol-related driving offense.

If you are convicted of driving under the influence in the state of Washington and a passenger under the age of sixteen was with you in the vehicle when you were stopped, the court shall order a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offense, $2,000 for a second offense, and $3,000 for a third offense, along with the installation and use of an ignition interlock device for at least six additional months.

WHAT MUST YOU DO IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH DUI?

If you are charged with driving under the influence in the state of Washington, you must contact an experienced Seattle DUI defense attorney at once. Your driver’s license will be suspended after twenty days unless you challenge the suspension, so you have no time to procrastinate. Don’t try to be your own lawyer, and do not plead guilty. If it’s possible, you want to avoid having a conviction for DUI on your record, and working with a good Seattle DUI defense attorney is the best way to handle a driving under the influence charge in this state.

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Don’t drink and drive! It can’t be said loudly enough. The only certain way to avoid DUI trouble entirely is to avoid drinking and driving. Always arrange transportation ahead of time – especially if you need to transport children – and call a rideshare service, a taxi, or a limo, or have someone act as a designated driver if you’ve had anything to drink. Paying for a ride will cost you several dollars, but the cost of a DUI prosecution – or a trip to the ER or the morgue – is much higher.