In Our View: Sobering Statistics

Numbers related to drunken driving are stark; law enforcement crackdown starts Friday

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Drunken drivers in Washington state statistically fall into several deadly categories. Three out of five who have been involved in fatal crashes were speeding. About half were not wearing seat belts. And their rampage on our roads, though yearlong, falls into a seasonal trend. July is the deadliest month; that’s when 12.1 percent of impairment-related traffic deaths occur.

So it’s encouraging that the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission on Friday will launch its annual statewide program targeting drunken drivers. The program lasts through July 4. In Clark County, the task force will vary from three to seven extra patrol units, using Washington State Patrol troopers, Clark County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from several local police departments. The program is funded by a federal grant of about $150,000, with the local expenditure here set for about $15,000.

That’s a good use of public funds for at least two reasons. There’s the obvious lifesaving and injury-preventing dimension, but there’s also the deterrent effect, which is impossible to measure accurately but likely still influential. As more people learn about the crackdown on drunken driving, more will choose to comply with the law.

At least that is the hope, but other statistics prove that many people simply are not to be intimidated into compliance. An annual average of about 273 impairment-related traffic fatalities have occurred in Washington state in recent years. The carnage has been less than several years ago, but even one is too many.

The Fourth of July creates a three-day weekend this year, which leads one to believe celebrations and revelry will be on the increase. Almost 22 percent of drunken-driving deaths in our state occur on Sunday, and more than 20 percent occur on Saturday. Toss in a Monday holiday, and the danger is magnified.

So take time this summer to remind yourself of the long list of horrifying consequences that arise from driving while intoxicated. The least impactive of those negative results is a ride in the back of a police patrol car. The destination will include several thousand dollars in legal expenses, plus myriad penalties served up by an intolerant judicial system. Then the list of possible outcomes becomes more violent and gruesome: property damage, injury to drivers or passengers or occupants of other vehicles, or death.

The number of traffic deaths and serious traffic-related injuries has declined in Clark County in recent years. But we still rank fifth among the state’s 39 counties in impairment-related traffic deaths. Across the state, Washingtonians can see certain patterns in the statistics. Half of these deaths in recent years were among people 16 to 30 years old. Three-fourths of the deaths were drivers. Two-thirds of the deaths were in rural areas. And across all age groups, 83.9 percent of the state’s impairment-related traffic deaths have been males.

The number of repeat offenders is so high as to trigger terror among all of us. In 2008, the national office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving reported “more than 2 million drunk drivers with three or more convictions and 400,000 with five or more convictions.” We also know that our state’s problem is worse than what’s seen nationally. About 41 percent of all traffic fatalities in Washington involve drunken drivers, but that figure is 32 percent on the national level.

There is no sign that any of these trends will change, but with greater attention to this problem by the public, and with enhanced enforcement by officers of the law, the numbers can be brought down. Don’t let booze ruin your Fourth of July. Review these statistics, and strengthen the resolve to avoid an encounter with any member of the enhanced law enforcement task force.