Oklahoma bucks national trend of falling drunk driving deaths

September 30, 2013

Although U.S. alcohol-related deaths fell by around 20 percent over the last twenty years, Oklahoma experienced a 10 percent rise in drunk driving deaths during the same period. Considering the state has about the same vehicles, intensive public education campaigns, and tough drunk driving laws as the rest of the nation, it’s unclear why drunk driving deaths here are rising compared to the rest of the U.S.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, in Oklahoma alcohol-related traffic deaths rose to 261 in 2012 from 249 in 2011. The state has taken steps to combat drunk driving deaths, so perhaps their effect will be seen soon.

Oklahoma measures to combat drunk driving deaths

An ignition interlock device, which helps combat drunk driving

An ignition interlock device. Image by Wikimedia Commons.

The state has a prosecutor to help smaller communities enforce drunk driving laws. Oklahoma, however, was slower to introduce a tougher law for ignition interlocks- alcohol detection devices drivers need to breathe in before starting their vehicle.

Currently, the law requires those with a BAC of .15 or higher to use an ignition interlock device for 18 months. (People with BAC levels of .08 or higher are considered legally drunk.) This law was introduced in 2011. Washington, which requires all DUI offenders to use ignition interlock devices has seen a reduction in crashes, so perhaps further strengthening the law in Oklahoma will have an effect, too.

Lack of manpower a challenge in enforcement of drunk driving laws

An ignition interlock law and other laws on the books mean little without stricter enforcement on the streets, says Lt. Garrett Vowell, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s impaired-driving enforcement coordinator.

A reduction in the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety budget (from $225 million in 2009 to $206 million in 2013) means that there is less money for law enforcement officials. The number of state troopers is the lowest in 22 years. Last year, 30 troopers graduated from Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy, the first class to do so since 2009. However, 24 other troopers retired, so the depletion isn’t set to get better anytime soon.

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Category: Road safety, Trends

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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