More Efforts Needed to Curb Drunk Driving

With alcohol-related traffic deaths again on the rise after coming to a near-standstill in the early 1990s, the United States has been given a "C" grade in the war on drunk driving, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the GuideOne Foundation. The last time MADD issued the "Rating the States" report was in 1999 when the nation earned a "C+" grade.

"C is for complacency," said MADD National President Wendy J. Hamilton, who pointed out that while alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped by 40 percent between the time MADD was founded in 1980 and 1993, progress then stalled. Alcohol-related crash deaths leveled off at about 16,500 between 1993 and 1999. Even more troubling, over the past three years, drunk driving deaths have climbed by five percent.

Last year, 17,448 were killed in alcohol-related crashes -- representing 41 percent of all traffic deaths. More than 500,000 Americans are injured annually in crashes involving alcohol. The annual economic cost of alcohol-related crashes exceeds $114 billion.

"The nation should be acing this fight for our lives because drunk driving is 100 percent preventable," Hamilton said. "The nation's lower grade reflects the lack of political will, leadership and resources dedicated to waging a winning war on drunk driving."

The MADD report cards graded the nation, each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico on efforts to combat the most frequently committed violent crime -- drunk driving -- and to combat underage drinking -- the number one youth drug problem.

At the federal level, in the area of political leadership, MADD dropped the Administration's grade to a "C" since the last "Rating the States" report, while the U.S. Senate earned a "B+," and the U.S. House a "C." Nationally, law enforcement programs and blood-alcohol testing and data collection efforts improved to a "C+." Passage of administrative measures and criminal sanctions nationwide remained above average at a "B-," youth programs and underage drinking prevention efforts dropped to a "C+" grade, and victims programs dropped to a "D+."

Hamilton said that the nation's grade was lowered to a "C" in part due to an increase in the country's alcohol-related traffic deaths, illustrating the "urgent need for more government resources dedicated to drunk driving and underage drinking as well as strong leadership" from Congress, the Bush Administration and other elected officials.

"The war on drunk driving has reached a complacent plateau, and we must change the dangerous public perception that the fight against drunk driving has been won," added Hamilton.

On the statewide level, no state earned an "A" in this year's report. California received the highest grade of a "B+," followed by Georgia, New York, North Carolina, and Oregon, which received "B" grades. The only state to receive a failing "F" grade was Montana. The District of Columbia received a "D+," North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and South Dakota received "D"s. Alaska and Massachusetts each received a "D-."

Sixty percent of each state's overall grade was based on its alcohol-related fatality trend and priority drunk driving laws. The other 40 percent was based on political leadership, blood-alcohol testing and records, law enforcement programs, administrative measures and criminal sanctions, underage drinking prevention, and victim issues.

MADD has identified several top priority laws for states to adopt: administrative license revocation (ALR); .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC)/illegal per se; primary enforcement safety belt laws; mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment; mandatory BAC testing for all drivers in fatal crashes; hospital BAC reporting; victims' rights constitutional amendments; vehicle impoundment; and ignition interlock laws.

"At the rate we are going, one-third of Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some point in their lives," said Jim Wallace, president and CEO of GuideOne Insurance. "That is unacceptable. Clearly, the nation and all of the states can and should do better."

Cleveland-based journalist Luigi Fraschini never mixes alcohol and driving. He has written on auto safety issues for several publications.