When an officer stops a person on suspicion of driving under the influence in Massachusetts, and when that person has a child passenger in the vehicle, the state may charge the driver with both an OUI and child endangerment. This is thanks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which convinced federal lawmakers that driving drunk with a child passenger is a form of child abuse. Today, all but four states have the power to charge a person with a separate offense if that person is guilty of operating a motor vehicle while inebriated and with a child passenger. In all states, including those that do not have additional laws, prosecutors have the right to charge the drunk driver with the additional crime of child endangerment.
Though MADD was the first to introduce the concept of child endangerment laws, New York was the first state to enact a comprehensive set of child endangerment laws. New York law makes it a felony to drive with a child in the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Massachusetts’s laws are not so strict. However, the state may charge a person with a misdemeanor if an officer stops him or her while he or she is operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and if the car contains a child passenger who is 14 years of age or younger.
A first offense of this nature may result in a 90-day to two-and-a-half-year prison sentence and a fine of between $1,000 and $5,000. Repeat offenders, however, are subject to not less than six months but not more than 2.5 years in jail and a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000.
According to the Foundation for Enhancing Alcohol Responsibility, the federal government enacted child endangerment laws to deter and punish those who endanger the lives and wellbeing of children. When it comes to driving under the influence, these laws recognize the gravity of putting innocent children, who are unable to protect themselves, in a harmful situation.