Slight Decline in Drunken Driving Deaths Doesn't Impress MADD

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Drunken driving traffic fatalities declined slightly in 2006 compared with the year earlier, but Mothers Against Drunk Driving is not reassured.

The group is pressing for more states to pass laws requiring ignition interlocks for first-time offenders.

In 2006, an estimated 13,470 people were killed in traffic crashes involving at least one driver (or motorcyclist) with a blood alcohol concentration at or above the legal limit of .08 -- a decline of 0.8 percent from the 13,582 drunken driving fatalities recorded in 2005, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Monday.

Twenty-two states (led by Texas, Kansas and Arizona) showed an increased number of drunk-driving fatalities last year, while 28 states (led by Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania) recorded fewer drunk-driving fatalities, NHTSA said.

But in a message on its Web site, MADD took a dim view of the slightly improved year-to-year numbers: "MADD is greatly disappointed that drunk driving fatalities are at a 10-year high," the group said.

"Each and every death and injury from this crime is preventable," said Glynn Birch, MADD's national president. "MADD's Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving supports enforcement as a deterrent to drunk drivers and makes it impossible for a vehicle to be driven by someone who is drunk," Birch added.

Four states -- Arizona, Louisiana, Illinois and New Mexico -- have passed legislation requiring all convicted drunk drivers to have an alcohol ignition interlock installed on their car.

The device measures a driver's blood-alcohol content, and the car will not start until the driver -- or someone -- blows into the device.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, interlocks are now mandated for 100,000 offenders, or 20 percent of those convicted of drunk driving each year.

MADD wants to increase that number to 500,000 in the next five years by pressing states to enact laws requiring alcohol ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, including first-time offenders.

In June, the group used Paris Hilton as a case in point, saying she should receive an ignition interlock after serving her sentence for driving under the influence.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said it is working with MADD to encourage states to enact interlock laws for first-time offenders.

National crackdown under way

In advance of a national drunken driving crackdown over the next few weeks, an $11-million advertising blitz is warning people that those who drink too much and drive will be arrested and prosecuted.

Congress provided NHTSA with the money to buy air time, and the ads began running on August 15.

To spread the word, representatives of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Governors Highway Safety Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving gathered Monday outside the courthouse in Arlington County, Va. -- "where those who don't heed the warnings will end up," the groups said in a news release.

The enforcement crackdown, which includes sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, coincides with the Labor Day weekend, when the roads are heavily traveled and the number of drunken driving incidents historically goes up.

"Our message is simple. If we catch you driving drunk, we will arrest and prosecute you. No exceptions. No excuses," said NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason at Monday's gathering.

The end-of-summer drunken driving crackdown is expected to involve thousands of local and state law enforcement agencies.

digg_skin = 'compact'

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.