Alcoholism & Addiction

Fewer Deaths from Drunk Driving Attributed to Clear Message, Tough Laws

Drunk driving deaths are beginning to decline in most states, a fact some experts connect with stricter penalties and new technology like ignition-interlocking devices. According to study results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released in 2008, fatalities associated with drunk driving fell by nearly 7 percent from 2007 to 2008.

The declining death rate was noted in all but 18 states, with approximately 12,998 fatal car crashes related to alcohol in 2007 – a figure down nearly 500 deaths from 2006.

At the time of the report, Mothers Against Drunk Driving made a national plea for new legislation that would require ignition-interlocking devices for all drivers who are convicted of drunk driving. The national activist organization also reported that South Carolina and Wisconsin both saw rising numbers of auto deaths related to drunk driving, and pointed to ineffective state laws as one cause.

The overall drop represents a gradual decline of drunk-driving fatalities – specifically, more than 40 percent—that began in 1982. Stricter laws for drunk driving offenders and strategic marketing campaigns are cited in connection with the declining number of deaths.

Jacob Nelson, director of road safety policies and research for AAA auto, credits the promotion of a straightforward message to curbing drunk driving. He says the key is to let people know that if they choose to drive while intoxicated, they will likely get caught.

The largest drop in drunk driving deaths occurred in Vermont, where the fatalities fell 45 percent between 2007 and 2008. However, in the Midwest, Kansas saw a rise in deadly drunk driving accidents – showing an increase of 36 percent. Kansas officials defend the rise, saying one year of climbing numbers does not represent the drop in alcohol-related fatalities for two prior years.
Some states are using technological tools like social media to curb drunk driving, with messages going out on Twitter warning against the behavior. In Colorado, an application for the iPhone was developed for downloading. The application is meant to help a driver estimate their level of blood-alcohol content. In Washington, messages against drunk driving were programmed into popular video game software.
Aggressive checkpoints managed by law enforcement officials are also noted as an effective deterrent. Drunk driving is an expensive problem, according to Allstate Insurance Company, who offers a price range for the behavior of 21 to 24 billion dollars for taxpayers each year.

Encouraging statistics also emerged toward young adult drinking and driving. Representatives for MADD said deadly car accidents related to alcohol fell 15 percent for young adults, a decline greater than other demographic groups.
Though state penalties differ for drunk driving across the nation, universal measures to continue the downward trend of drunk driving fatalities are actively promoted by safety officials and social groups like MADD. With steps like more sobriety checkpoints, technology devices that prevent drunk drivers’ vehicles from operating if they’ve been drinking, and additional measures that capture public attention, thousands of lives could be saved.

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