There was a recent crash in my area that killed 5 out of the 7 members of a family riding in a minivan. They were traveling through our state back home from visiting an ill family member in Colorado. Five of the 7 passengers were not wearing seat belts and were ejected from the van. They were rear-ended by an 18 yr old drunk driver in an SUV; both vehicles spun out of control and rolled. I should also mention the drunk driver was a fugitive from a California youth facility for drug and alcohol abusers. Nice.

Crashes like this always make me shake my head in disappointment at the loss of life. The family certainly didn’t ask to have their lives taken by this thoughtless, reckless bonehead. He showed complete and utter lack of respect for their lives (and everyone else’s on the road that night) and disregard for the law. He should be punished to the full extent of the law.

But what about the family’s responsibility? It’s hard to say whether or not they would have survived the crash if they had all been wearing their seat belts. I’m not a crash investigator and I wasn’t on scene to make that determination. We all know the statistic that we’re 4 times more likely to be thrown from a vehicle if we’re not belted in. No one expects to be in a crash when they get in the car to drive from point A to point B, but we should be prepared for it. If they had been wearing seat belts, perhaps they’d all still be alive with scrapes and bruises instead of being 6’ below ground today.

These types of moral arguments make my head spin. Each side has responsibility in this crash. Should the 18 yr old have the strictest penalties placed on him because the family members made the decision not to wear seat belts? That doesn’t seem fair. Yet he also made the decision to drink and drive. If he hadn’t, the family might still be here (or might not—maybe something else could have happened to them that night). Should we prosecute based on intent or on outcome? Sometimes both are the same, but in this case, I don’t think it was. What do you think about these situations?