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Holidays among worst for DUIs

Posted - Dec. 7, 2004 at 3:40 p.m.



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CHICAGO, Dec 07, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The holidays can be one of the most tragic times of the year.

A 2002 study of fatal two-car crashes by economists at Harvard University and the University of Chicago looked at a decade of data in the Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System and found a legally drunk driver was 13 times more likely to cause a fatal accident than a sober driver.

Drivers who had been drinking but were not legally intoxicated were seven times more likely to cause a fatal vehicle crash.

A 74-year-old Chicago man was charged with DUI after he drove his Toyota into the path of a correctional officer participating in Sunday's 27th Toys for Tots motorcycle ride, an annual charity event that attracts 20,000 motorcycles and collects more than 100,000 toys for children who might not otherwise receive holiday presents.

Frank Griseto, 55, was set to retire from the DuPage County Sheriff's Department this week. He died when his "full-dress" Harley-Davidson slammed into the driver's side of a car driven by an intoxicated man. The driver was hospitalized in stable condition.

It was the first fatal accident in the history of the charity ride.

The same day a 73-year-old Chicago man was killed and four elderly women were injured by a drunken driver who hit their van.

Illinois ranked 14th on a list of the 15 U.S. states with the highest percentage of alcohol-related traffic deaths based on statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. End Needless Death On Our Roadways, a national physicians group raising public awareness of drunken driving, released its first report Tuesday.

Rhode Island, Hawaii and Nevada topped the group's "Fatal Fifteen" list of states for drunken-driving fatalities.

END members, including Dr. Andrea Barthwell, a former Bush administration deputy drug czar, called on the 15 governors, the mayor of Washington and officials in Puerto Rico to take action to combat DUI during the holiday driving season and winter months.

"Motorists are facing an epidemic of death on our roadways, and tragically many of these fatalities and serious injuries could have been prevented," said Barthwell, co-chairwoman of END.

There were 17,013 alcohol-related traffic deaths in the United States reported to federal auto-safety regulators in 2003. Rhode Island had the worst record, with 55 percent of all traffic deaths alcohol-related.

Fifty-three percent of Hawaii's traffic deaths were blamed on drinking and driving, 50 percent in Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina; Montana 49 percent, South Dakota 48 percent, Texas 47 percent, Wisconsin 46 percent, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New Mexico 45 percent and Illinois and Kansas 44 percent.

Nationally, 40 percent of traffic fatalities and about half of all trauma injuries are alcohol-related.

Utah had the lowest percentage of drunken driving-related deaths, just 15 percent.

The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths actually has fallen 25 percent since the 1980s because of tougher laws that lowered the blood-alcohol threshold for drunken driving to .08 percent and mandatory seat-belt laws. But alcohol-related deaths have reached a plateau despite enforcement efforts in many states.

DUI arrests rose 3.5 percent in California in 2003, but alcohol-related deaths increased for the fifth straight year. California has a zero-tolerance policy for driving under the influence by motorists under 21.

Nationally, the rate of fatalities in alcohol-related motor-vehicle crashes fell 12 percent from 1994 through 2003, from 6.7 to 5.9 per 100,000 population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has endorsed a national goal to cut drunken driving-related traffic deaths in the United States 32 percent by 2010, to 4.0 per 100,000 population.

Comprehensive approaches include lowering blood-alcohol concentration laws, sobriety checkpoints, minimum legal drinking-age laws, zero-tolerance laws for young or inexperienced drivers, school-based education to reduce riding with impaired drivers and server intervention training.

"The CDC has determined that carefully planned and well-executed mass media campaigns that attain sufficient audience exposure and are implemented in conjunction with other ongoing prevention activities are effective in reducing alcohol-impaired driving," said Medical News Today.

The doctor-led End Needless Deaths urges states with the largest percentage of alcohol-related traffic deaths to form task forces of law-enforcement officials and medical experts to develop programs to educate the public and reduce drunk driving.

End Needless Deaths recommends doctors screen people for alcohol abuse during hospital emergency visits and keep drunks off the road.

"Studies have determined that brief interventions, which are short 5- to 15-minute counseling sessions designed to assist the patient confront the negative consequences of his/her alcohol consumption, have proven effective in decreasing consumption among at-risk drinkers," END said.

Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago professor of economics and Jack Porter, a professor of economics at Harvard, found the holiday season is one of the most dangerous times to be on the road because of drunken drivers.

Up to 25 percent of alcohol-impaired drivers were on the road between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. -- a time when 60 percent of fatal crashes are blamed on drinking. They used quantitative economic analysis to determine the average cost to society per mile driven by drunks is 30 cents -- or an estimated $9 billion a year.

"Our results suggest that policies focused on stopping erratic drivers with greater frequency might be more successful," they wrote in their article, "How Dangerous are Drinking Drivers?" in the Journal of Political Economy.

December is National Drunk and Drug Driving Prevention Month, and public and private-sector groups are mobilized to prevent alcohol and drug-impaired crashes.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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