Drunk driving deaths down 38 percent, LHSC says

A report released this week by the state highway safety commission shows impaired driving deaths dropped almost 38 percent over a six year period, but more than 40 percent of all highway deaths still involve alcohol.

In 2015, Louisiana State Police Troop I, which encompasses most of Acadiana, has investigated 43 fatal crashes resulting in 46 deaths.

The state highway commission’s study looked at the number of crashes and fatalities from 2007 to 2013. In 2013, approximately 234 people were killed in automobile accidents where impaired driving was a factor. That’s a 37.6 percent drop from 2007 when 375 people died.

Although state highway safety and law enforcement officials report an overall decline in impaired driving fatalities from 2007 to 2013, the most recent year for which results are final, they caution that alcohol involvement remains a factor in more than 40 percent of Louisiana highway fatalities.

Officials say they will beef up patrols through Labor Day as part of the state’s Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, which is in effect through Sept. 7.

The two-week, high-visibility campaign is timed to coincide with the Labor Day holiday and the preceding weeks. Last year, over Labor Day weekend, there were 341 fatal and injury crashes, with 48 involving alcohol, based on preliminary data. Eleven people died.

Sponsored by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, with funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Drive Sober campaign provides grants to state and local law enforcement agencies working overtime to curb impaired driving. Police officers, sheriffs’ deputies and state troopers throughout the state are participating.

Traffic crashes are defined by NHTSA as “alcohol-impaired” crashes if a driver or nonmotorist had a measurable Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or higher. “Alcohol-related” is an estimate based on a classification model developed by LSU to predict alcohol involvement in crashes where the test results are unknown.

Officials attribute the overall decline in alcohol-impaired fatalities to tougher DWI laws, stricter seat belt laws and campaigns like Drive Sober, which couple public information with enforcement. The number of DWI arrests made in Louisiana during grant-funded enforcement activities like the Drive Sober campaign has increased from 1,854 in 2007 to 9,499 in 2014.

Driving while intoxicated is a serious offense in Louisiana, with a first-offense arrest costing thousands of dollars in fines, court costs, attorney fees and even jail time. An adult driver is legally intoxicated in Louisiana if his or her blood alcohol concentration is .08 or higher. The limit for drivers under 21 is .02 BAC.

Persons with a DWI conviction on their record risk other problems, such as loss of a job or a suspended driver’s license. They might also have to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle.

Other impaired driving facts:

• Of the 10,076 people killed in drunk-driving crashes in the U.S. in 2013, 65 percent were the drunk drivers themselves.

• Male drivers more likely to be drunk in fatal crashes. In 2013, 23 percent of males were drunk in fatal crashes, compared to 15 percent for females.

• Motorcycle riders have the highest overall rate of alcohol impairment in fatal crashes. In 2013, 27 percent of the motorcycle riders killed in the U.S. were driving impaired.

• Alcohol is more often involved in rural-area crashes than in urban-area crashes. In 2013, alcohol was involved in 44 percent of rural and in 37 percent of urban fatal crashes in Louisiana.

• Even though it is illegal for youths under 21 to consume alcohol, the alcohol-related crash rate for 18 to 20-year-old drivers was about twice the average (10 versus 9 per 100,000 drivers) of drivers of all groups in 2013.

• Alcohol-related crashes in La. occurred more frequently on weekends than during the week in 2013.

• There is a strong correlation between driver impairment and seat belt use. In 2013, 5,080 passenger vehicle drivers killed had BACs of .08 or higher. Out of those driver fatalities for which restraint use was known, 68 percent were unrestrained. Among passenger vehicle drivers killed who had BACs of .01 to .07 the percentage of unrestrained was 53 percent, and for passenger vehicle drivers killed who had no alcohol (BAC=.00) the percentage of unrestrained was 39 percent.

• Drunk drivers are at least 13 times more likely to cause a fatal crash than sober drivers, according to a 2001 study by Steven Levitt, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago and Jack Porter, Professor of Economics at Harvard University.

Source : National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and LSU Highway Safety Research Group

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