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True number of drunk driving fatalities unknown

| May 13, 2015 | Motor Vehicle Accident

Many people in the United States, including here in Illinois, die in drunk driving accidents on a daily basis and prompt their surviving loved ones to turn to an Arlington Heights car accident attorney. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30 people in the country pass away every day in a collision caused by a drunk driver. Although this is a large number of fatalities, a recent study discovered that the actual number of deaths caused by drunk driving in the U.S. is significantly under-reported.

How the study was conducted

The researchers who worked on this study analyzed data that was collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. This system’s purpose is to provide information about the blood alcohol content levels of people who die in car accidents. Once the researchers obtained this data, they then compared it with information on death certificates from people in all 50 states.

The highway data the researchers acquired from the database indicated that 21 percent of people killed in drunk driving accidents had a BAC level at or above the legal limit of 0.08. However, on the death certificates that the researchers looked at from the years 1999 to 2009, only three percent of the death certificates stated that drunk driving was a contributing factor in the fatal car accidents.

Why are these fatalities under-reported?

There are three primary reasons why this variance between the NHTSA’s reporting system and the information on the death certificates the researchers looked at existed. First, it can take a significant period of time for BAC level test results to come back after a fatal collision occurs. Since death certificates are generally filed three to five days after a person dies, information about alcohol’s involvement in an accident is often not included on these official records.

Second, in the U.S., some states are more likely to report that drunk driving was a factor in a person’s death than others. However, the researchers were unable to determine why this occurs. Third, approximately half of the states in the U.S. are required to test for the presence of alcohol in a driver’s system if he or she is killed in a car accident. On a national level, an average of 70 percent of these drivers have their BAC level tested.

Acquiring accurate information about drunk driving fatalities is important because it can help lawmakers assess the effectiveness of existing drunk driving prevention policies and determine whether or not they are reducing alcohol-related deaths.

DUI laws in Illinois

To prevent drivers from operating a vehicle in an intoxicated state and causing a fatal or injurious collision, the state of Illinois has installed a strict penalty system for drunk drivers. For example, according to the Illinois State Police, drivers who are convicted of DUI for the first time will lose their driving privileges for a year and may have to spend up to a year in prison. First-time DUI offenders may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $2,500.

Although these penalties are designed to keep drunk drivers off of the roads, many intoxicated drivers are never even arrested for this offense. The Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization states that every day in the U.S., more than 400,000 people drive in an intoxicated state. However, fewer than 4,000 of these drivers are arrested. Additionally, the average intoxicated driver has operated a vehicle intoxicated approximately 80 times before being arrested for the first time.

Preventing injuries and deaths caused by drunk driving

To reduce the number of accident victims who work with an Arlington Heights car accident attorney after suffering from serious harm, other measures need to be taken in addition to penalizing drunk drivers. According to the CDC, some effective measures that can be used include:

  • Increasing the cost of alcohol by raising taxes on alcoholic beverages
  • Requiring all DUI offenders to participate in substance abuse treatment and assessment programs
  • Taking away the driver’s licenses of drunk drivers immediately after they are arrested for DUI
  • Including regular sobriety checkpoints in DUI enforcement programs
  • Implementing programs in local communities that promote the dangers of drinking and driving
  • Actively enforcing BAC level laws, zero tolerance laws and laws that prohibit underage drinking

Law enforcement and other government agencies should also remember that drivers can still endanger the lives of others when their BAC level is well below the legal limit of 0.08. For example, a driver with a BAC level of 0.02 may have a hard time tracking moving targets as he or she operates a vehicle and may also have a difficult time performing two activities at the same time. Additionally, a driver with this BAC level may be unable to judge dangerous driving situations appropriately and experience an altered mood, states the CDC.

When a driver reaches a BAC level of 0.05, he or she may exhibit exaggerated behaviors, experience reduced coordination and find that his or her visual functions decline. A driver with this BAC level may also have a hard time steering his or her vehicle and become unable to respond to emergency driving situations appropriately.

When drivers are involved in an accident involving a drunk driver, regardless of what his or her BAC level was, they may require significant medical and rehabilitative care. In this situation, accident victims should consider consulting with an Arlington Heights car accident attorney to determine what they can do to assert their rights to fair and proper compensation.