Suspected drunk drivers with children 14 or younger in their cars will now face tougher penalties if they are convicted in Los Angeles, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo announced Thursday.
In addition to being charged with driving under the influence, which authorities said carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, drunk drivers will also face a charge of child endangerment. The additional misdemeanor could double the penalty, authorities said.
"We must send a clear message to those who choose to drink irresponsibly and place their lives and the life of a child in danger by getting behind the wheel of a car that their behavior will not be tolerated," Delgadillo said at a news conference Thursday.
Officials said the new policy applies in cases involving children 14 or younger. Cases involving older youths will continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis in which attorneys for the city decide whether to include the child endangerment charge, they said.
The city attorney's office files about 15,000 drunk driving cases each year, said Mary McGuire, deputy communications director for the city attorney's office. Many of those cases involve children, though the exact numbers were not available, she said.
Delgadillo said he considered driving drunk while transporting a child a form of abuse. "Rather than a fist or a gun, the weapon is a motor vehicle," he said.
Tina Pasco, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Los Angeles, said she is delighted because she believes the new policy will decrease drunk driving and increase child safety, especially during the holiday season.
"The end result . . . can only be saving children's lives," Pasco said in an interview Thursday.
In 2000, 1,233 people were killed and 30,971 injured in the state in alcohol-involved collisions, according to the California Highway Patrol. Of those, 89 who were killed and 3,391 who were injured were under 18, officials said.
"Children don't have a choice," Pasco said. "Parents say, 'Get in the car.' They depend on us to keep them safe."
Delgadillo echoed that sentiment as he warned drivers: "Think twice before drinking and driving, especially when carrying the most precious cargo of all, your children."