By Barry Martin
There are a few facts about drunk driving that I find alarming: Every 53 minutes, someone in the U.S. dies in a drunk-driving crash; and, a drunk driver will drive drunk 80 times before the first arrest. Closer to home, in 2011, there were 277 lives lost in an alcohol-related crash, and more than 31,000 DUI arrests in Georgia.
The end of summer signals an increase in drunk-driving crashes, as do holidays. With the Labor Day holiday a week away, I am reminded of the July 4th weekend and the seven car pile-up in Clayton County that resulted in six DUI arrests. This left me speechless. How and why could something like this happen?
MADD Georgia works very hard throughout the state to stop drunk driving, help victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking. We also have found effective ways to reduce drunk-driving crashes, injuries and fatalities. These countermeasures, part of MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, include high-visibility law enforcement, ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, and advanced technology to prevent a drunk driver (with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 and above) from operating a vehicle.
Georgia is one of 32 states that conduct sobriety checkpoints. These programs, such as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” have been very effective. The key to their success is the combination of high-visibility enforcement with strong public awareness messages. Through Sept. 2, Georgia will conduct its Labor Day Crackdown with sobriety checkpoints throughout the state.
Such checkpoints were also conducted over the Independence Day holiday. According to media reports, the Georgia State Patrol made more than 16,600 traffic stops and arrested more than 300 people for driving under the influence. Traffic crashes over the July 4th holiday reportedly accounted for 11 deaths. Troopers investigated 785 accidents that resulted in 374 injuries.
Georgia has to do more. MADD’s campaign also advocates for states to pass strict drunk-driving laws that require ignition interlocks for all offenders with BACs of .08 or greater. More than 115 million Americans are now protected by these laws. Statistics show states that have passed such legislation have reduced drunk-driving deaths by more than 30 percent. Twenty states have enacted such legislation.
Currently, Georgia law requires an ignition interlock only for repeat offenders. MADD urges Georgia lawmakers to focus their attention on solving the state’s drunk-driving problem by passing legislation that would require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers. Lawmakers have the opportunity to amend House Bill 671 in 2014 to do so. This is the next step necessary to eliminate drunk driving in Georgia.
MADD also asks that if you are celebrating with alcohol this Labor Day weekend, please plan ahead and designate a sober driver, make arrangements for a taxi or car service, or spend the night at a friend’s home or a hotel.
Barry Martin is executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Georgia.