Drunk Drivers Causing Parental Deaths Now Liable for Child Support in Texas

A new Texas law has gone into effect that will see drunk drivers convicted of intoxication manslaughter pay child support for their victim’s family.
Drunk Drivers Causing Parental Deaths Now Liable for Child Support in Texas
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 13, 2022. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly
9/3/2023
Updated:
9/3/2023
0:00

Drunk drivers who are convicted of intoxication manslaughter will now need to pay child support if they kill a parent or guardian of a child in a car crash, according to a new Texas law that went into effect on Sept. 1.

The law was a bipartisan bill that Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed in June.
“Any time a parent passes is tragic, but a death at the hands of a drunk driver is especially heinous,” Mr. Abbott said at the time. “I was proud to sign HB 393 into law this year to require offenders to pay child support for the children of their victims.”

Advocates of the law view it as a way to discourage drunk driving.

Under the law, Texas House Bill 393, the court shall order a person convicted of intoxicated manslaughter “to pay restitution for a child whose parent or guardian was the victim of the offense.”

“[T]he court shall determine an amount to be paid monthly for the support of the child until the child reaches 18 years of age or has graduated from high school, whichever is later,” text of the legislation reads.

The court will weigh several factors when deciding the restitution amount, such as the child’s financial situation and needs. If relevant, the finances of the surviving parent, guardian, or the Department of Family and Protective Services will be taken into account. The child’s standard of living, overall well-being, and any childcare costs due to a working surviving parent will also influence the decision.

Intoxicated manslaughter in Texas has a potential penalty of up to two decades in prison.

The person convicted of intoxicated manslaughter must start the child support payments within one year of being released. They can make a plan for the missed payments and must pay everything they owe, even if the payment was supposed to end while they were in jail.

The payments will continue until each child of the victim turns 18.

‘Bentley’s Law’

A police officer administers a breathalyzer test to a man at a sobriety checkpoint. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A police officer administers a breathalyzer test to a man at a sobriety checkpoint. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The law has been nicknamed “Bentley’s law.” It was created by Cecilia Williams, a Missouri woman who lost her son, daughter-in-law, and four-month-old grandson in a crash that involved a drunk driver on April 13, 2021.

“I got up out of bed to an officer and a state trooper standing at my door,” Ms. Williams told KSDK-TV in an interview in August 2022. “They repeatedly told me that they had died in a fiery crash.”

Ms. Williams said in a statement on the website of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD): “Bentley’s Law was created out of a tragedy that has affected the lives of two beautiful boys, Bentley and Mason, and the lives of our family. These crashes are totally preventable, and I will continue to fight for change for all who have suffered from impaired drivers. Many families like mine suffer such a loss every second of every day, and Bentley’s Law will bring change to hold the offender accountable for such horrific actions.”

Tennessee became the first state to pass “Bentley’s Law” in July 2022.

Similar laws are being considered in over 20 other states.

Drunk Driving in Texas

Texas has among the worst rates of drunk driving in the nation, ranking third according to a Forbes analysis in late 2022. Montana has the highest rate, followed by Wyoming.

According to the analysis, Texas has the most underage drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes at approximately 1 per 100,000 residents.

More than 8 drunk drivers per 100,000 were involved in fatal crashes, the second-highest number behind Montana, the report showed.

And nearly 40 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state were caused by drunk drivers.

Jana J. Pruet contributed to this report.
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