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Don’t always toss them the keys

POSTED: June 12, 2014 7:41 p.m.

The investigation continues into why somebody ran into another car head-on last week, killing a 4-year-old boy in the ensuing collision and badly injuring that young boy’s mother.

From law enforcement’s accounts, the driver, also badly hurt, had a suspended license. The state had deemed he did not need to be driving.

And yet there he was behind the wheel last Friday afternoon, causing someone to call 911 and report his dangerous driving to authorities not long before he ran into another car.

How he got his hands on a vehicle and a set of keys is another matter. From what I understand, the man who is believed to be the cause of last week’s fatal wreck did not have the car owner’s permission to take that vehicle. I won’t render judgment on his guilt or innocence — the courts will decide that.

But what happens when someone who shouldn’t be driving does get a car?

Law enforcement can go after people who put keys and cars in the hands of those who have lost their driving privileges.

“If we can prove it that they did furnish it, we can do something,” Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie explained.

If they provided that means willingly, however, requires establishing intent.

“It is difficult to prove,” the sheriff said. “We’ve got to prove they’ve done it willfully.”

People who lose their licenses for whatever reason still need to find a way to get around. But handing them the keys to a car or giving them a car isn’t the answer. And if that person is guilty of multiple DUIs, placing a vehicle at their disposal is downright dangerous.

As horrified as people get when a drunk driver causes an accident, especially one that results in the death of anyone, young or old, it still doesn’t seem enough emphasis is placed on curtailing that activity. Law enforcement sure takes it seriously. In fact, I once had the conversation with a friend of mine who ran a bar in suburban Atlanta and was friends with several cops. And he said they told him straight up that even if he got pulled over for DUI suspicion there was nothing they could do for him.

Servers and bartenders who pour a few too many or many too many drinks for customers can find themselves at the wrong end of the law if that person goes out and creates havoc on the roadways. But what about the person who tosses the keys or permits their car to be used by someone who simply shouldn’t be driving or isn’t allowed to drive?

Again, proving intent or pre-existing knowledge isn’t easy. But I wish there was some way to go after those who knowingly and willingly provide the car or the keys to a car to someone, especially a habitual violator, who has no business driving under the laws of the state. Certainly, they can be held civilly liable for anything that happens. But what about criminally?

Vehicular homicide in the state of Georgia carries a penalty of three to 15 years. If the person responsible is found to be a habitual violator of driving laws, he is subject to a prison sentence of five to 20 years.

Giving a car to someone who has had their license revoked or suspended, especially if they have had multiple DUIs, is akin to giving them a gun and handing them the bullets. It would be hard for the state legislators to write into the Official Code of Georgia Annotated penalties for people who do provide a vehicle to someone who then causes harm to others. Still, it might be worth the effort. Maybe something will get done and somewhere down the line somebody thinks “I won’t go down for giving you the keys if you hit somebody because I’m not giving you the keys.”

If there’s even a chance in the future it might save someone’s life, to me, it’s worth exploring.

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