New Tennessee law supports children of drunk driving victims


photo or infographic by Emily Meachen

FOR BENTLEY AND OTHERS. The Tennessee Legislature passed “Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law”, which includes the names of the two surviving children of Tennessee Police Officer Nicholas Galinger, who was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver. The law went into effect on Jan. 1.

Drunk driving claims hundreds to thousands of lives every year across the country. From teens to the elderly it affects families and homes, but more than ever does it affect families where one or both parents are killed in an accident due to drunk driving. This problem has been around for years and affects those that have been orphaned by the loss guardians, which can affect children both mentally, emotionally and physically. Another major problem is how to take care of those who have been left behind, while some go to family members, others go to foster care. Inability to keep stability and having kids moved into new homes has brought up conversations about how to help both the new caretakers and minors who have been affected by the crime.

New laws effective Jan. 1 in Tennessee are helping those who have to take care of children whose parents have been killed by drunk driving.

Tennessee has enacted the bill named Ethan’s, Hailey’s and Bailey’s Law stating that if someone commits vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated they will pay restitution to the children until they turn 18 and graduate high school. This law was named after multiple kids that had been orphaned after intoxicated drivers had killed their parents and they were then supported by other family members.

This law was originally inspired from a grandmother, Cecilia Williams, who had to take care of her adult son’s children after he and his spouse were killed in a drunk driving accident. Williams then proposed Bentley’s law, which was then picked up by MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, who started to fight for this law in multiple states across the nation. Multiple states are considering similar laws  including  Arkansas, New York, Missouri, Alabama and even Texas

Although the law will not help ease the pain of losing a loved one, it could help ease the financial burden of such a loss. The pain of losing a parent is often magnified by the surviving parent having to miss more time with the family by working another job to make ends meet. Other times children are sent to live with retired grandparents with no income or money from savings once earmarked for college is now covering rent, mortgages and utility payments.

The importance of protecting children and those who now have to take care of those children is imperative to supporting those affected by loss. Bentley’s law is a good example of one way states can help those who have been affected by drunk driving and discourage it even furthur at the exact same time, hopefully protecting the nation in the process so that tragedies can become more unlikely.