Texas led the nation with 1,354 drunken driving fatalities in 2006 and was among the states to record the largest increase in such deaths, federal transportation officials said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Monday, Aug. 20th released data showing drunken driving deaths increased in 22 states and fell in 26 states in 2006.
There were 13,470 deaths nationwide in 2006 involving drivers and motorcycle operators with blood alcohol levels of .08 or higher, which is the legal limit for adults throughout the country. The number was down slightly from 2005, when 13,582 people died in crashes involving legally drunk drivers.
Texas’ 2006 total was an increase of 34 from 2005, putting it even with Arizona and Kansas for the biggest jump. However, Utah, Kansas and Iowa had the largest percentage increases compared with 2005.
“Texas has run a first close and second with California for years,” said Susan Bragg, victim services director for the North Texas chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “It’s because traditionally Texas hasn’t been known as a strong enforcer of DWI laws. We have a lot of highways. We have a lot of drivers.”
Nationwide, the overall number of deaths involving drivers and motorcycle operators with any amount of alcohol in their blood was 17,602 last year. That was up from 17,590 in 2005, said Heather Ann Hopkins, spokeswoman for the national highway administration.
“The number of people who died on the nation’s roads actually fell last year,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said at a news conference in Arlington, Va., a Washington suburb. “However the trend did not extend to alcohol-related crashes.”
Transportation officials announced the new figures as they unveiled an $11 million nationwide advertising campaign as part of a Labor Day weekend campaign called “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”
“This crackdown is very, very, very important because it’s the penalties that are imposed when someone chooses to ignore the law that really have the ability to make changes,” Peters said.
To fight drunken driving, Austin police will seek grants to help the city pay for more targeted police patrols and will collaborate with other law enforcement agencies, Chief Art Acevedo said.
“It is unacceptable, these drunk driving deaths,” he said. “We have to come together as a community to deal with it, and as a law enforcement community.”
Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania had the greatest decreases in numbers of drunken driving deaths last year, while the District of Columbia, Alaska and Delaware had the largest percentage decreases compared with 2005. The District of Columbia had the smallest actual number of drunken driving deaths with a total of 12.
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