United States Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, kicked off this important campaign on Monday: “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”    The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration sponsors this multimillion-dollar movement annually during the busy holiday season.  Their statistics reveal that in the month of December, 2009, 753 people were killed in crashes that involved a drunk driver or motorcycle operator with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .08 or higher – above the legal limit.  That was for only one month! 

Further statistics from NHTSA show that during last year, a total of 10,839 persons were killed in alcohol-related vehicle accidents (that’s one person every 48 minutes!)  Of those:

        7,281 –  (67%) of the fatalities were drivers with a BAC of .08 or more;

       1,772 –  (17%) of fatalities were passengers with the impaired drivers.

        1,119 –  (10%)  of fatalities were occupants of other vehicles.

           667 –   (6%) of fatalities were pedestrians or non-occupants of the vehicles.

That represents almost 11,000 persons who lost their lives in 2009, many of them innocent victims. 

The Governors Highway Safety Association is in strong support of this “Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest” program.  Federal officials also want all states to use the “No Refusal” strategy when it comes to a suspected drunk driver rejecting a sobriety test.  Thus far, nine states are using this method – Louisiana, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Utah, Idaho, Texas, and Arizona.    Many other states have the necessary legal authority to conduct No Refusal initiatives including: Alaska, Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.   If the driver refuses, officers can obtain warrants immediately from “on call” judges in order to have blood samples taken from the suspected drunk driver. This will eliminate many suspected drunk drivers from trying to dodge arrests on the weekends or holidays. 

The GHSA and NHTSA met with a number of state officials last November to discuss best practice in putting into place alcohol ignition interlock programs.  Next year, the GHSA will begin a three-year NHTSA-funded research effort to determine the most effective elements in this type of program.  Alcohol ignition interlocks would prevent a convicted drunk driver to get behind the wheel of his/her vehicle unless they are sober.  Twelve states have already passed this law. 

In Texas, State Senator Jane Nelson has filed a bill to permanently revoke the driver’s license of any motorist in Texas that has been convicted twice of driving while intoxicated.  One reason she cited was an Easter-weekend car crash that left a mother and her daughter dead, involving an intoxicated driver who had been convicted of DWI three times.  Nelson has also filed a bill requiring first-time offenders to not drink alcohol and to wear an alcohol detection monitor for 60 days as a condition of probation.  More than 1,200 people died on Texas roadways in 2008, in crashes involving drivers with .08 or higher blood-alcohol content.  According to the Texas Department of Public Safety records, 78,000 Texans have three or more DWI Convictions.  M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) supports bills that allow Texas law officers to conduct sobriety checkpoints and require the ignition interlock devices for first-time offenders.  Research has shown that these measures have reduced drunk-driving deaths in other states, according to Bill Lewis, public policy liaison for the Texas Chapter of M.A.D.D.   Get involved by contacting your state lawmakers and let them know you want this problem dealt with. 

Get ready, because if you are traveling this holiday season, you will see more black and white patrol cars.  Through grants, the NHTSA helps fund extra saturation patrols and checkpoint stops during the three week, December 16th through January 3rd “Drunk Driving, Over the Limit, Under Arrest” campaign.  Sometimes we think they’re just out to catch us speeding so we get a big ticket.  They are there to save our lives.  Don’t speed, don’t text while driving, and don’t drive under the influence!  If you obey the law, you won’t get stopped.  If you plan to attend a party, have a designated driver. Don’t let your friends drive if they’ve been drinking.  Take their keys away and take them home, or call a cab. Driving under the influence or with someone who has been is not worth becoming a statistic.