10,000 communities begin crackdown on drunken driving

A demonstration of the ignition interlocks system, which makes drivers do a breathalyzer test before their car engines will start. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

WASHINGTON – Over 10,000 communities across the country are continuing the campaign to crack down on drunken driving.

The hope is that this annual crackdown will highlight the overall impact law enforcement officials have on drunken driving.

Though the number of drunken driving incidents has gone down by 30 percent over the past five years, the U.S. Department of Transportation says it’s still a serious problem.

The slogan used for this annual campaign, “Drive sober or get pulled over,” is designed to make all drivers think before getting behind the wheel.

The efforts are propelled by several groups, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Governors Highway Safety Association.

One in three highway deaths in the U.S. in 2009 involved a drunken driver, according to research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Seventy percent of all alcohol-related deaths in the country in 2010 involved drunken drivers with blood alcohol levels that were twice the .08 legal limit, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Thomas Manger, police chief for Montgomery County, says the number of drunken driving arrests in the county has remained steady. The number of actual drunk drivers has decreased in Montgomery County, though — an example of the overall national trend.

“I think the trends we’re seeing not only here in the D.C. region [and] Montgomery County, but nationwide, is that there are fewer drunk drivers on the road than there were years ago,” Manger says.

In Montgomery County, there were 786 alcohol-related crashes in 2011 and 3,360 drunken driving arrests. In Fairfax County, there were 3,216 drunken driving arrests in 2011. Additional numbers from previous years were not available upon request.

On Aug. 1, Virginia became the 17th state to require ignition interlocks after one DUI conviction. The interlocks require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer before their car engines will start.

D.C. and Maryland do not require interlocks, though a judge has the option of imposing the interlock rule after a second conviction. In the other 16 states that have mandatory interlocks, instances of drunken driving have decreased by 50 percent.

The crackdown will start Aug. 17 and run through Labor Day weekend.

WTOP’s Hank Silverberg and Heather Brady contributed to this report. Follow Hank Silverberg and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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