By Leah Walton, NTSB Safety Advocate
Twenty years ago, in the summer of 2001, I began my work to end alcohol-impaired driving at the Minnesota State Office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Over these 20 years, although so much has changed and there’s much to celebrate, we still have so much work to do.
What Can We Celebrate?
- 17,267 people lost their lives in alcohol-impairment-related crashes.
- 16 states, DC, and Puerto Rico had a .08 per se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) law.
- ZERO states had all-offender ignition interlock laws (the first state to pass all-offender interlock legislation was New Mexico in 2005).
- 10,142 people lost their lives in alcohol-impairment-related crashes (in 2019, the most recent data on record).
- Every state has a .08 BAC law. And in 2018, Utah became the first state to enact a .05 BAC per se law.
- 34 states and DC have ignition interlock laws that apply to all offenders.
I’m no mathematician, but I think that means that, while I’ve been working on all different types of impaired-driving prevention programs, laws, and studies, approximately 200,000 lives have been lost, and millions of people have been injured, as the result of an act that is 100% preventable. 200,000 lives!
We Must Do More
We have consistently lost around 10,000 people to alcohol-impaired driving crashes every year for the past 10 years.
As I wrote this blog, I became disheartened and frustrated. For 20 years, I’ve worked with colleagues to create messages for 20 Independence Days, New Year’s Eves, St. Patrick’s Days, Memorial Days, Labor Days, and on and on, and we’re still here, asking you not to get behind the wheel after drinking this July 4th, asking you to designate a sober driver before you begin celebrating, asking you to call a ride-share or taxi, or to be the one that takes the keys from a friend, family member, or neighbor so they don’t drive impaired.
Unfortunately, we know that more than 400 people will likely die this weekend, many because someone made the choice to drive after drinking. As long as individuals continue to make the choice to drive after drinking or dosing, and as long as life-saving technology and legislation is delayed, we will continue to push this message. Losing 10,000 lives every year. It must stop.
Ignition interlocks for all impaired-driving offenders, lower BAC per se laws, in-vehicle technology to detect alcohol and prevent a driver from starting a vehicle—all of these are possible now and would reduce impaired-driving crashes. However, these solutions wouldn’t even be necessary if people would make the choice to call a cab or a sober friend, or just elect to not drink or take impairing drugs if they know they will be driving.
Preventing alcohol-impaired driving has been on the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL) for over 20 years and, at the rate we’re going, it will be there 20 years from now. But, at the NTSB, we are nothing if not persistent, and we will continue to advocate to prevent impaired driving for another 20 years if that’s what it takes. This July 4th, commit to being part of the solution, and help us retire this MWL safety item once and for all.