Illinois Gets A- for DWI Grade from MADD Is Highest in Nation
Terry Ganey Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau Chief, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Mothers Against Drunken Driving has given its highest grade - an A- - to Illinois, which has reduced highway deaths 30 percent in the past 10 years, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The agency gave Missouri a D+, one of the lowest grades in the nation, for its efforts to combat driving while intoxicated.
The grades were in a nationwide survey released Tuesday. The survey was based on a questionnaire delivered to the states last April.
Illinois scored well for such things as Gov. Jim Edgar's appointment of a statewide Driving Under the Influence Task Force and for having higher-than-average blood testing of victims of fatal accidents.
Another key factor was Illinois' move to abolish "happy hours," with two-for-one drink specials.
The MADD group downgraded Missouri because its legal blood-alcohol content limit is .10 instead of .08. It also noted that the state has no law barring opened alcoholic beverage containers in vehicles.
The national average of the survey was B-. Mississippi got the lowest grade, D-, followed by D or D+ for Wyoming, North Dakota, Idaho, Missouri, Vermont and Alabama.
The "report card" used 11 criteria to measure a state's anti-DWI activities, including enforcement actions, state laws, accident statistics and public information campaigns.
"We know that Missouri falls short of many of MADD's goals for reducing DWI crashes," said Dan Needham, director of the Missouri Division of Highway Safety. "No matter what grade MADD gave us, we must be honest about what reality is and begin to build positive change based on that reality. We do know that Missouri could use some improvement in getting our impaired drivers off the road."
Missouri was criticized for not having an anti-DWI task force, for allowing "happy hour" promotions and for allowing hearings to delay the administrative revocations of drivers licenses in DWI cases.
Accident statistics also played a role in the grading system. Some Missouri officials questioned the figures.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of alcohol-related fatalities in Illinois dropped 30 percent in the past 10 years. During the same period, they increased 9.2 percent in Missouri, according to the federal agency's formula.
"From our perspective, when you have a significant decline in deaths on the highway over a 10-year period, you are doing something right," said Gary Kenzer, executive director of the Illinois State MADD office. …