The MADD Victim Impact Panel Class

So, besides all the classes, counseling sessions, urine and breathalyzer tests you have to go through with VASAP or ADAPT, there is also something called a MADD Victim Impact Panel Class I have to attend tonight.  Fortunately, this is one-time class and there is no additional fee (well, technically there was, but it was included in the money I already paid VASAP).  In some states, there are additional fees, so if you have to go to one of these, be sure to check with your case manager/program manager about this.  According to the information I got from VASAP…’the objective of the meeting is to help you fully understand the impact that drunk/imparied driving has on our community’.  From what MADD says, these panels exist as a means to help victims restore health and well-being by sharing their stories of how an impaired driver affected their lives.  However, the audience is offenders (or friends/relatives of offenders if you ask them to go with you), so I think these panels are more geared towards hammering home what you did or could have done that led you to a DUI than relieving victims.

I’m a bit humbled by this.  I truly feel for these victims and if this does help them, then that’s great.  When I first learned about this requirement, I didn’t have any problems with attending this because I think this might make offenders think a little more about what they did or may do in the future when they decided/decide to get behind a wheel when they’ve been drinking.  Obviously, VASAP, ADAPT, and the courts don’t really cover this or cover it well.  After all, sitting in ADAPT watching Dr. Phil didn’t really seem to make people feel remorseful about what they’ve done-  of course, being subjected to his show would make a lot of people feel bad.

Just a note: MADD uses the word ‘impaired’- I’m assuming that’s to cover anyone who’s had even a single drink and drives and not just those that are truly drunk (shouldn’t they change their names to MAID, then?).

Now, I have been getting this sort of information since I was in junior high.  Everyone had to watch the horrific videos of drug/alcohol-related crashes from 8th grade through high school every year.  We talked extensively about this in driver’s ed and watched even more videos.  We had guest speakers- DUI offenders, victims, and families of victims- come in to talk about their experiences.  We had special presentations just before prom in 11th and 12th grade and again before graduation.  There are numerous programs I’ve watched on TV over the years including HBO’s Smashed: Toxic Tales of Teens and Alcohol (if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it especially if you have children).  On top of it, I lived with an alcoholic relative from the time I was about 6 until I was 18 and I was in the car with that person on more than one occasion where they shouldn’t have been driving.  Plus, I have a cousin that killed someone because he was drunk driving.  I’m not blind to these issues and I’ve been living with them for years.  I’m definitely for DUI legislation (some parts more than others). But maybe I’m not the norm.  My ADAPT classmembers seem to think they played no real role in their DUI or that the DUI wasn’t justified, even as they admit they were stone-drunk when they got behind the wheel (and some admitted they do this often).  Now, I don’t believe that my DUI was justified, but I just can’t afford an appeal.  But even if I had not been convicted, I would still feel horrible about the whole situation and constantly remind myself of what could have happened if I’d been truly above the legal limits that night.   It didn’t take getting a DUI to hammer this home with me.  I have always practiced safe driving by making sure I stayed below legal limits and not taking any chances- not just for the sake of avoiding a DUI, but to make sure no one- including myself- was hurt by me.  But, again, if this is just another hoop I have to go through, at least this one will have more meaning than any other.

HOWEVER, here’s why I have a problem with attending this panel:  I will be subject to a breathalyzer test.  I find that hands-down ridiculous.  My husband asked ‘Why do they have you do that?’  My simple response was ‘To further humliate you’.  See, when you add this to the requirements of going to the panel, you just lost my support for this.  You just lost impact that this panel might have had because now it’s turned just another means to shame an offender.  Some people might say ‘good’ or ‘too bad’, but think about it.  If you’ve done wrong in your life, and almost everyone has, and you’ve paid your price or are paying the price of that wrong, does that mean you should be berated about it over and over?  Eventually, that turns you away from remorse and into resentment and anger.  It doesn’t work.  Let’s say you messed up at work and didn’t finish a task on time and cost your company money as a result.  You might get fired and not have a positive reference from that company or you might have to deal with a setback in your career or even just some loss of respect until you could earn it again.  If your boss constantly brought up this mistake over and over again- to you or in a group setting- wouldn’t you eventually start to hate his guts?  It would turn from you being remorseful about a mistake, trying to learn your lesson, into hostility towards the person that keeps wanting to humliate you.  So, having this test at a panel has made me concentrate less on what I might hear from the victims and more on the fact that VASAP and MADD are trying to point and say ‘Hey, look over here!  This person got a DUI!  Can everyone see that?  Hey, did you forget you had a conviction?  Just in case, here’s a test to remind you and make sure you feel even more ashamed!’   It’s absurd.   

The only other reason I could find that you need this breathalyzer is to assure that you’re not drinking the day of a panel.  Now, that sounds pretty flimsy to me.  Yeah, I thought I’d kick back a few before going and listening to people talk about how their child died in drunk driving accident.  Do people really do that enough to require a breathalyzer?  Have they had to escort drunk people out of the panel on a regular basis?  I really don’t think so.  I think my guess- humliation- is the real reason to do this.

I’m also a little worried about taking a breathalyzer.  Because of my acid reflux, I may have elevated results.  There are a host of reasons the breathalyzer results may be wrong and you have no control over them (see my post- Breathalyzers- Who Knew They Could be So Misleading?).  They use an alco-sensor at these panels, at least in my area.  These are the same ones that are used by the police in the field.  I found out that the results of these units cannot be used in court because they’re unreliable.  So…why are they used in this panel?  If you fail a breathalyzer at a panel, they kick you out.  If they kick you out, you have to talk with VASAP about why you didn’t attend.  Now, I’ve talked over and over with them about my issue and they made notes about it, but I doubt this panel has those notes.  I’m taking my medical papers with me just in case, but c’mon- you think they’ll care?  If this is such a serious requirement, though, they should be requiring urine or blood tests.  Sounds stupid?  Yeah, but it sounds more stupid to me to get kicked out of a MADD panel for having acid reflux or diabetes or high levels of ketones or if the unit wasn’t properly calibrated. 

Anyway, I was told to get to the location very early to get a seat.  I checked again with VASAP and they said that if you don’t get a seat, you can’t attend (there is no standing room, I guess).  I don’t think this will be a huge problem for me because it’s being held in a gymnasium at a middle school and they expect 300-400 people.  Wow.  One wonders how on earth they’re going to breathalyze 300-400 people.  Even if only half of them are offenders, that sounds like a long time in line. 

Well, when I get back, I’ll update this post with what I learned.  From what I understand, many states require this of DUI offenders, so maybe this will help you if you have to go to one.


Okay, so I went to the VIP tonight.  All day I’m getting stressed out about this breathalyzer, the potential humiliation and worrying that I might get a false result, giving myself the beginnings of heartburn (which made me worry more).  I had to be careful all day about what I ate so my relux wouldn’t act up…and for what??  The whole breathalyzer thing was a scare tactic!  I reread the instructions sheet and it did say ‘…you will be subject to a breathalyzer’ (actually, this was all in caps for emphasis).  Well, they lied.  Maybe this isn’t the case everywhere, but it was in my area.  It seems that the local VASAP really sunk to a new level- lying.  Honestly, it made me feel just as bad as when I thought they were going to test me because it was a juvenile way to handle the situation.   I’m sure VASAP wouldn’t like me telling you this, but, I think it was pretty crappy.

Anyway, the rest of the evening wasn’t so bad.  The whole event lasted only about 40 minutes.  I showed up at 6:15pm and I was glad I did- the seats filled up quickly.  Word to the wise- it’s better to show up early because they did, indeed, close the doors at exactly the time the paper said it would.  There were enough seats for everyone and even if there weren’t, they wouldn’t have kicked me out as VASAP had told me they would.  We listened to one couples’ story- both of them spoke- and it was a sad one.  The wife had been in a horrific accident, almost died, in a drug-enduced coma for two and a half months, in the hospital another month beyond that, and in rehab and countless surgeries beyond that.  I felt the tears well up because it was pretty tragic and touching- you could see how much the man loved his wife. 

The entire time they’re talking, though, there were two guys standing on either side of the auditorium and they occasionally wandered up and down the aisles.  When I had arrived, these fellows greeted me and I thought they were dressed for church.  Bingo- they were from some local Baptist church and serving as MADD bouncers.  It was the oddest thing- I felt like I was in one of those cults where they have men stand at the doors so you can’t get out.  Well, in a way, that’s what they were there for.  They were making sure everyone was paying attention and not playing on their cell phones.  They pulled one guy out- presumably for one of these offenses.  They had said if you were caught doing either of these things, you’d get kicked out.  But this guy came right back, so I”m not sure what was going on. 

Though I was definitely affected by the couples’ speeches, I couldn’t help but think that this was yet again another extreme case.  The 18 year old that caused the accident was drunk out of her mind.  She’d had a suspended license and been caught by the police SEVEN times in the five months preceeding the event.  Seven times?  Really?  And they just kept letting her go?  So, she was driving on the wrong side of the road and collided head-on with the wife.  The wife and her passenger allowed the girl to make a plea bargain in exchange for a shortened jail sentence (16 months), a long probation (9 years, 8 months) and requiring her to submit to testing for drugs and alcohol each month of that probation.  If she tested positive at any time, she would go to jail for the 9 years, 8 months.  Well, a couple years later she was charged with possession of cocaine.  The husband just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and announced this as if the girl was a just a waste.  I couldn’t help wondering if she had ever received real treatment or not.  If she was in only in VASAP or ADAPT, my guess is no.  But my point is that I’m willing to listen to this, but I think the general audience would have benefited from hearing a less extreme case as far as the offender goes.  In other words, it would have hit home a lot more if people heard a story like this where the driver was barely at or above the legal alcohol limits and not zonked out of their mind.  My guess is that it’s harder to find people with such stories because being close to the limits, say a .07, .08. or .09, lessens the chance of such extreme consequences.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But maybe it proves the point that’s been brought up whenever the states went to .08 limits: there is no empirical evidence to show that lowering alcohol limits lessens highway fatalities or severe accidents.  I’m sure it happens.  But according to the national statistics, in 2009, 70% of fatalities in alcohol-related crashes were committed by those with a .15% BAC or higher.  We tend to expect to hear most bad, alcohol-related crashes associated with very high BACs…there’s a reason why.  MADD emphasizes that impaired driving is the same as drunk driving.  Hell, there’s a billboard on the way to my parents’ house that reads ‘Buzzed driving IS drunk driving’.  But is that really true?  If you have one or two drinks, are you really at-risk?  I’m not sure it’s a good idea to drive with any amount of alcohol in your system, but it does make me wonder how they came about the .08% limits and why.  Well, the why is based on some invalid studies (even the US General Accounting Office blasted these studies, see my post Cha-Ching Goes the State) and money.  Considering this and the statistics on BAC levels in severe crashes/fatalities, I”m not sold on the .08% argument. 

Anyway, it’s over now and I can check this off my list.  My heart goes out to all the victims of drunk driving.  I may not agree with everything behind them, but MADD does have some good points.   I appreciated the couple taking time to tell us their story and I wish them the best of luck.


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