March 14, 2008

Wisconsin's abysmal drunk driving record

Ah, St. Patrick's Day! Everyone's Irish and the beer is flowing from the taps in local bars. Why, green beer is even being dispensed openly on Monument Square Saturday. What's not to like?

Well, drunk drivers, for one thing.

Last year, according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, nine people died in eight accidents on March 17 and 18. Alcohol played a role in five of the crashes, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Nationally, 105 drivers and motorcyclists were killed in accidents on St. Patrick's Day 2007. Of them, 44 percent had blood-alcohol levels of .08% or above, according to the NHTSA.

So, a very simple message is being sent to the state's drivers: Don't! State and local law enforcers promise a crackdown on drunken driving this weekend.

"There will be no warnings for impaired drivers; violators can expect to be arrested," said Michael Witter, Midwest administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. State and county law enforcement officials are promising extra vigilance, extra patrols, no leniency.

Unfortunately, the problem is not one that a mere holiday crackdown can cure. Kathleen Falk, Dane County executive, spoke to the Madison Rotary Club on Wednesday, and was a real downer, presenting the following grim statistics:
-- Wisconsin has the absolute worst rate of binge and chronic heavy drinkers in the nation. Nearly 50-percent of our high school students drink...more than any other state. We have the worst rate of underage drinking in the country.

-- Wisconsin has one and a half times the national rate of arrests for operating while intoxicated.

-- In the 10 years from 1994 to 2004, three times as many people were arrested in this state for alcohol violations than the national average.

-- In our state...twice as many adults drive after having too much to drink than in other states. It should not be a surprise then that Wisconsin has the highest percentage of fatal auto crashes involving alcohol in the nation…no State is worse than we are.

-- In 2006, there were 8,400 crashes caused by alcohol in Wisconsin. More than 300 people were killed and 5,600 others were hurt in those wrecks.

-- So in just one year, nearly 6,000 people – each with family, friends, and co-workers – were hurt or lost their lives all because someone got behind the wheel after drinking.
The rest of her presentation has been reprinted on The Political Environment blog. I recommend reading it before you go out this weekend. The facts are sobering.

P.S. Remember that semi that rolled over on I-94 yesterday? The driver's blood-alcohol level, according to the Milwaukee County Sheriff, was .18 -- more than twice the legal limit. And he's a repeat offender... Guess he was getting an early start on the holiday. (Although, of course, presumed innocent until ...)

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