New Website Gives DWI Victims the Chance to Share Their Story—Will it Make a Difference?
Jacqui Saburido is one of the most well-known drunk driving victims in the country. In September of 1999, Jacqui and four friends were headed home from a party when a drunk driver hit their car. Two passengers died at the scene and Jacqui was badly burned after the car caught fire. Her story and her courage to tell it attracted national and international attention. In the nearly 15 years since the accident, Jacqui has spoken to numerous reporters and groups to help people understand the consequences of drunk driving.
Jacqui is also prominently featured on facesofdrunkdriving.com—a new website launched in June by the Texas Department of Transportation. The site shares the stories of over a dozen DUI victims, their families, and offenders—often in their own words—as well as before and after images of victims. According to TxDOT spokesperson Raquelle Lewis, “There were more than 25,000 alcohol-related crashes in our state in 2012. The numbers alone can’t describe the impact of these crashes on individuals and their families.” TxDOT hopes the site will get drivers to think twice before getting behind the wheel while intoxicated, to plan their transportation before drinking, and to use a designated driver.
Story-telling and sympathy can be very powerful tools to encourage people to reconsider their behaviors. Each year, thousands of high schools and colleges bring drunk driving victims or their families in to speak to students, and many jurisdictions require DWI offenders to attend Victims’ Impact Panels. The expectation is that attendees will be moved by what they hear and refrain from impaired driving or reoffending.
Putting victims’ stories online seems to be an obvious approach to make them accessible to a wider audience. Indeed, MADD regularly posts stories on their blog. But the effectiveness of using technology to tell them is open for debate. Websites require viewers to actively search out information and engage with it. Simply making victims’ stories available may not be enough. Arguably, readers who are likely to look for or click on stories like Jacqui’s have a certain level of awareness about the issue and are already inclined to not drink and drive.
In addition, some question the impact of victims’ stories on changing the decisions of hardcore drunk drivers, who are most likely to be involved in accidents resulting in a fatality. These drivers are often already aware of the potential consequences of impaired driving, sometime from first-hand experience. The case of Dawn Vrentas is a tragic example. Vrentas was pulled over in Seattle last week with a blood alcohol concentration nearly twice the legal limit. Her arrest came almost exactly ten years after she caused a drunk driving crash that killed two of her friends.
Hardcore drunk drivers often have serious alcohol dependency or addiction issues. The American Society of Addiction Medicine notes that addiction is a disease “characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.” In short, individuals locked in a struggle with addiction often make poor and even life-threatening choices—against all logic and emotional appeals.
What role do you think victims’ stories play in dissuading people from driving while impaired? When and where are they most impactive? And can websites and social media be effective ways to present such stories?