Occupational Health & Safety

NTSB: Nation Stuck in 'Decade-Long Plateau' of Drunk Driving Deaths

More needs to be done to get drunk drivers off the nation's streets and highways. That was the message of National Transportation Safety Board Chair Mark V. Rosenker, testifying last week before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation Safety, Infrastructure Security, and Water Quality. Addressing the effectiveness of federal drunk driving programs, Rosenker noted that, "while alcohol-related fatalities have decreased since 1982, there has been little improvement in the last 10 years." The nation has been stuck in "a decade-long plateau" where alcohol-related fatalities are concerned, he said.

In 2006, 17,602 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes. Rosenker said that "hard core drinking drivers"--those who drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or greater, or who are arrested for driving while impaired within 10 years of a prior DWI arrest--are involved in about 54 percent of those fatal crashes. In 2000, NTSB issued recommendations to all states aimed at hard core drinking drivers; the 11-element model program asks that states take action to reduce these preventable crashes and deaths, but currently only California, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, and Virginia have implemented a sufficient number of elements to close the recommendation, he said, adding that action is needed in the remaining states.

"The NTSB has worked for years with the states to reduce drinking and driving, and we've had success, but more needs to be done," Rosenker said. "Impaired driving actions have been on our list of Most Wanted Safety Recommendations since its inception in 1990 and we have made recommendations for closing the loopholes in age 21 laws and enforcing those laws. We also recommended zero alcohol tolerance laws for underage drivers."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that, since 1975, nearly 25,000 teen traffic deaths have been prevented by age 21 laws; however, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers and alcohol remains the leading drug of choice for youth. "Studies have shown that lowering the legal drinking age will increase the consumption of alcohol and alcohol-related accidents by young drivers," Rosenker said. "Why would we repeal or weaken laws that save lives?" The full text of Rosenker's speech is available at http://www.ntsb.gov/speeches/rosenker/mvr071025.html.

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