Drunk-driving deaths rose in 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a decade of progress, the drive to curb alcohol-related traffic deaths has taken a detour, safety advocates say.
“That work is not nearly finished,” North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan said at a news conference Tuesday with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Dorgan’s mother was killed in 1986 by a drunk driver.
Drunken driving fatalities increased for the first time since 1986 last year, and efforts to lower the drinking limit were stifled in every state where they were tried last year, said MADD officials.
The group released a scorecard on anti-drunken driving efforts by the states and nation. Group members gave the nation a C — down from a B-minus three years ago, the last time the group issued a grade.
Minnesota received a B, the same as in 1993. MADD says the state needs a tougher standard for drunken driving, better statistics, improved public awareness and an anti-plea bargaining law.
Minnesota had 265 alcohol-related deaths last year, accounting for 44 percent of all traffic fatalities.
Nationwide, drunken driving fatalities rose 4 percent in 1995, the first such increase since 1986. Total traffic deaths were up 3 percent last year. About 41 percent of all fatal car accidents were alcohol related.
“We are asking everyone to wake up and do something about this problem,” said Randy Frazier, who fought back tears as he described how his 9-year-old daughter was hit by a speeding car at a Maryland school-bus stop last year.
The driver had a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent, making her legally drunk in 13 states but not in Maryland. MADD wants every state to adopt the 0.08 percent standard. The limit in most states, including Minnesota, is 0.1.
MADD’s scorecard took into consideration changes in drunken-driving laws, state enforcement efforts and trends in fatalities and arrests. The group issued similar report cards in 1991 and 1993. Trends in alcohol-related deaths account for 30 percent of the grades.
Individual states improved their ratings. California, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina received an A-minus this year, the highest grade given. Only Illinois got as much as an A-minus last time.
Wyoming received the lowest grade, a D-plus. Wyoming was among seven states in 1993 that earned a D-plus or worse.
California, Florida and North Carolina are among 13 states that have the 0.08 percent limit. A man weighing about 160 pounds would reach the 0.08 limit after four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach.
The restaurant industry has fought the lower limit, arguing that drivers aren’t impaired at that level. “People at 0.08 are not involved in the drunk-driving fatalities,” said John Doyle, a spokesman for the American Beverage Institute, a restaurant industry trade group.
The 4 percent rise in alcohol-related traffic deaths, to 17,274 in 1995, was first reported in July by the government. Until last year, such deaths had dropped steadily after topping 24,000 in 1986.
“We have done an excellent job in deterring social drinkers. The people who continue to drink and drive are the hard-core (drinkers), who are quite resistant to change, both because of addiction and lifestyle,” said Chuck Hurley, a spokesman for the National Safety Council and a MADD board member.