By Mark Rosekind
A day that marks American leadership has become the deadliest American holiday. On the Fourth of July, over the five-year period from 2007 to 2011, 780 people across the nation were killed by drunk drivers who had blood alcohol levels of at least .08. These deaths accounted for 40 percent of all July 4th motor vehicle traffic fatalities over the same five years. Statistics gathered during the past quarter century show that most of these fatal crashes are related to alcohol. Although that varies from year to year, Independence Day routinely tops Labor Day, New Year’s, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas on the list of times when drinking and driving kill most.
Such statistics demand the highest level of personal leadership from every one of us who drinks alcohol and expects to get behind the wheel this Fourth of July. Take responsibility and use strategies to avoid drinking and driving such as depending on a designated driver…refraining from alcohol long before getting on the road…and celebrating at walkable venues.
But these tragic circumstances underscore the tremendous need for leadership at the national and state levels to eliminate needless drunk driving deaths. As the next step in the NTSB’s year-long activities on “Reaching Zero – Actions to Eliminate Substance-Impaired Driving,” last week we convened leaders from some of America’s top advocacy organizations against drinking and getting behind the wheel. While specific strategies may vary, there was strong consensus that zero alcohol-impaired driving deaths is a common goal that must become a national priority. It begins with working together on specific measures to achieve success.
Over the past year, the NTSB issued nineteen new safety recommendations resulting from its recent work on this issue. With leadership among advocacy groups, lawmakers, and public officials, this bold set of targeted interventions calls for stronger laws, swifter enforcement, and expanded use of technology. It can put the country on a course to eliminate alcohol-impaired driving crashes.
Each year in the United States nearly 10,000 people are killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers and more than 173,000 are injured, with 27,000 suffering incapacitating injuries. Since the mid-1990s, even as total highway fatalities have fallen, the proportion of deaths from crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver has remained constant at around 30 percent. In the last 30 years, nearly 440,000 people have died in alcohol related crashes. The time is long overdue to tackle this stubborn killer and make significant gains.
Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago the leaders of this country overcame different views and divergent opinions to lay the foundations for a new nation. They should serve as an example for today’s lawmakers, public officials, and advocates to seek common ground on aggressive measures to save thousands of lives and prevent countless injuries on our roads every year. The NTSB’s recent recommendations offer some compelling strategies across the board that – if implemented – would stave off the needless loss of life resulting from drinking and driving. Little will change, however, absent the national leadership and personal responsibility needed to take us there.