Child Endangerment Laws Child endangerment is a term used to collectively identify laws that create a separate offense or enhance an existing penalty for an offender who endangers a minor. Endangerment is any action that might place a minor’s physical, moral or mental well- being in jeopardy. While most states now have some kind of endangerment statute, 46 states (increased from 35 in 2004) and D.C. currently have statutes that create special sanctions in cases of driving under the influence/driving while intoxicated (DUI/DWI) while the offender is transporting a child. Seven states treat the criminal penalty as a felony. For current information about state laws on child endangerment, refer to the MADD website: madd.org/ChildEndangermentLaws Child endangerment statutes fall into the following categories: • Enhanced penalties: Penalties that are added to the penalties for a DUI/DWI law violation. • Separate offenses: An offense for DUI/DWI with a minor in the vehicle that is separate from the DUI/DWI offense. • Aggravating circumstances: Laws that allow the fact that a child was in the vehicle to be used by the judge/jury in sentencing as an aggravating factor, but not necessarily in mandating a specific enhanced penalty. Driving impaired is not an “accident” or a mistake. It is a choice, just as the act of blatant physical child abuse is a choice. The weapon is a motor vehicle, rather than a fist. MADD victim advocates continue to receive an increasing number of calls from distraught parents and other loved ones regarding allegations of an adult driving impaired with a child in the vehicle. In polling MADD chapters during the last year, MADD victim advocates across the nation received approximately 471 child endangerment calls. Many of these calls indicate that reports filed to state agencies as child endangerment are slipping through the cracks of the system, putting children at a greater risk of victimization. Additionally, there is a prevalence of calls from parents or caregivers who know a child is riding with an impaired adult and cannot take action to protect the child without judicial intervention. These calls are not from victims of drunk driving crashes, but from potential victims of drunk driving. Often, victim advocates feel helpless and frustrated with these calls for help. There seems to be no relief due to the lack of public awareness of the DUI/ DWI child endangerment problem and the reluctance to accept that driving impaired with a child in the vehicle is a form of child abuse.
In 2017, MADD received 471 child endangerment calls.
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