Improving Drunk Driving Enforcement: Part I

Article excerpt

Reducing drunk driving fatalities 25% by 2008 is an ambitious goal, especially since he 2004 decrease in impaired driving fatalties was a scant 2%. Yet, given the enormity of the impaired driving problem in America, now is the time for this bold, ambitious goal, believes Chuck Hurley, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

"As extraordinary as law enforcement agencies are, they cannot do the job of eliminating drunk driving alone. A major reduction in drunk driving fatalities in America will be accomplished through a combination of excellence in high-visibility law enforcement, emerging technology and community support," Hurley, an ardent supporter and long-time friend of law enforcement, says.

Hurley is used to taking on big challenges in the traffic safety arena-with stunning results. He was one of the chief architects of the highly successful "Click It or Ticket" high-visibility seat-belt enforcement model that gave law enforcement the support and framework to move the nation's safety belt use from 59% to 82%. In addition, he was instrumental in developing and directing a campaign that worked to dramatically decrease air bag-related injuries.

Those who visit with Hurley, a past recipient of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2004 J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety excellence, for just 10 minutes usually walk away amazed and infected with his "can do," "must do," and "here's how we will help" energy aimed at one goal-reducing alcohol-related crash injuries and fatalities.

Officers as DUI Victims

Alcohol-related crashes claim an average of one life every half-hour. Almost 17,000 people died in 2004 in alcoholrelated crashes and half a million people were injured. Tragically, America's law enforcement officers are too often included in this group of victims.

According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund (NLEMF), crashes killed 62 officers in 2005, two more than the number of officers killed in shooting incidents in the same year. Forty-one officers died in crashes, 15 were struck by vehicles, and six died in motorcycle crashes.

The NLEMF cannot break out the number of officers killed in crashes caused by impaired driving, but noted that while fatalities from shooting incidents decreased 36% from 1975 to 2004, line-of-duty deaths due to crashes increased 40% over the same time period. Impaired driving is the suspected cause of two crashes that claimed the lives of two California Highway Patrol officers. The CHP has lost six officers in the line of duty during the six months from September 2005 to February 2006.

Young people are especially impacted by the drunk driving outcomes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds. Among 15- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2004, 29% had been drinking and 24% of young drivers age 15 to 20 who were killed in crashes had BAC levels of .08 or higher.

Drunk driving dangers also routinely threaten our nation's young children. Research shows that a shocking two-thirds of children killed in alcohol-related crashes were riding in the vehicle with the drinking driver.

"Law enforcement has been the best friend of MADD for 25 years. From now on, we intend to be law enforcement's best friend," Hurley says. MADD aims to work toward accomplishing the 25% reduction by supporting key activities that highlight enforcement and technology-the twin initiatives upon which this goal is based.

Specifically, MADD working with law enforcement, government agencies and other advocacy organizations, will: 1) Advocate for best practices in sobriety checkpoints (to focus on general deterrence) and saturation patrols (to focus on increased arrests of impaired drivers), 2) Advocate for continuation of high visibility national seat belt and impaired driving mobilizations supported by paid advertising, 3) Support new technologies proven effective by research, 4) Support alternative transportation and 5) Monitor the criminal justice system for loopholes and by making recommendations for improvement. …