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Essay: The Truth about Victim Impact Panels

DUI/DWI Victim Impact Panels by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Victim Impact Panels (VIPs) involve friends, relatives or victims themselves telling a group of DUI/DWI offenders the tragic outcomes of an alcohol- related traffic accident. A session is typically begun, moderated and ended By a low enforcement officer. The event is highly emotional and the main goal is to prevent offenders from driving again when impaired By alcohol. As Mothers Against Drunk Drivers explains, “The concept of the VIP is not for MADD to point fingers or to place blame, rather it is our effort to raise awareness and change the thinking and behavior of those present” 1. Offenders sometimes report that they will never again drive while impaired by alcohol.

A major strategy in reducing alcohol consumption is to make alcoholic beverages more expensive and more difficult to obtain. “Availability is the mother of abuse” insists Joe Califano of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA).

Are Victim Impact Panels effective in actually reducing DUI/DWI?

Apparently not, according to research. And there’s some evidence that in some cases they may even be counter-productive... worse than doing nothing. To learn what really works and doesn‘t to prevent drunk driving, visit Drinking and Driving.

But in spite of their apparent failure, Victim Impact Panels have proven very effective in raising money for Mothers Against Drunk driving (MADD), which has operated them for many years. Judges frequently require attendance at a Victim Impact Panel as part of probation when they convict drivers for DUI/DWI. Because MADD determines the amount of the required “contribution,” Victim Impact Panels generate large sums of cash for the organization.

To learn more, visit Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

References and Readings

References
1. MADD. Victim Impact Panels: How They Help. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Orange County Chapter. See http://www.maddorangecounty. org/vippanels.htm). Goals of Victim Impact Panels have been identified as Helping DUI/DWI offenders understand the impact of their decisions on victims and communities. Providing victims of alcohol-related traffic accidents with a structured, positive outlet to share their personal experiences and to educate offenders, justice professionals, and others about the physical, emotional, and financial consequences of DUI/DWI. Building partnerships among DUI/DWI victim service providers and justice agencies that can raise the individual and community awareness of the short- and long-term impacts of drunk driving.

Readings
Allen, J. M. The Construction and Transformation of the Victim Identity in Victim Impact Panels. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Illinois University, 2003. In addition to their ineffectiveness in reducing DUI/DWI, Victim Impact Panels appear to be of limited value to the victims and loved ones who make presentations. However, Mothers Against Drunk Driving indicates that “our experience with this program has shown that the Panel can be very therapeutic for the Panelists. Some come to the Panels even if they are not scheduled to speak to provide support to other Panelists. The Panel has become a way for some to work through their grief; for many it is one of the few places where they can talk about their loss. Many times their friends and family are tired of hearing about it. For those who have re- married, there are instances where the new spouse doesn't wish to hear about the former spouse and/or children. Thus, the panel becomes an important pressure release valve.” MADD. Victim Impact Panels: How They Help. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Orange County Chapter. See http: //www.maddorangecounty.org/vippanels.htm). Baca, J.C., et al. Victim impact panels: Do they impact drunk drivers? A follow-up of female and male, first-time and repeat offenders. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001, 62(5), 615. This is a methodologically strong study of the effectiveness of Victim Impact Panels. Badovinac, K. The effects of victim impact panels on attitudes and intentions regarding impaired driving. J. Alcohol Drug Education. 39 (3): 113- 118, 1994. Fors, S. and Rojek, D. DUI offenders' reactions to a required victim impact panel intervention, Athens, GA: University of Georgia, 1997, unpublished report. Fors, S., and Rojek, D. The effect of Victim Impact Panels on DUI/DWI rearrest rates: A twelve-month follow-up. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1999, 60(4), 514. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Victims Impact Panel (VIP) of Oklahoma. In: Traffic Safety Digest: A Compendium of Innovative State and Community Traffic Safety Projects, winter 1995. O'Laughlin, L.H. Drunk Driving: The Effects of the Clackamas County DUI Victim Impact Panel on Recidivism Rates, Oregon City, OR: Clackamas County Chapter, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 1990. Polacsek, M., et al. MADD victim impact panels and stages-of-change in drunk-driving prevention. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001, 62(3), 344. This is another methodologically sophisticated test of Victim Impact Panels. Rao, N., Woodall, W., Rogers, E, Kang, N., Polascek, M. and Way, P. Effects of Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD's) victim impact panels on first- time DWI offenders: Some initial results. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, Albuquerque, NM, May 1995. Sheppard, M.A. and Stoveken, C.A. Convicted impaired drivers' knowledge about alcohol: Relevance for program development. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 38 (2): 113-122, 1993. Shinar, D. and Compton, R.P. Victim Impact Panels: Their impact on DWI recidivism. Alcohol Drugs Driving. 11: 73-87, 1995.

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