Alcohol-related fatalities up in Washington region

At a news conference, police used this car to tell people that there are two ways to get home when drunk. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – The numbers are startling when it comes to alcohol-related deaths in 2011: 9,878 people died in drunken driving accidents.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration figures are being released just as police across the country step up their drunken driving patrols for the holiday season.

Fatalities are down in 27 states and have decreased nationwide by 2.5 percent. It’s a different story in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., which all had slight increases after years of a downward trend.

In 2011, 224 people died in drunken driving crashes in Virginia, 17 more than the year before. In Maryland, there were 162 alcohol-related crashes, up eight from 2010. In D.C., there were eight such fatalities, up one from the year before.

Virginia State Police Superintendent Steven Flaherty that despite the increases, the figures are still much lower than when he became a state trooper 37 years ago.

“We’re triple digits below what were were five or six years ago,” he says. “We’ve had a tremendous impact, but we need to work harder and harder and harder.”

Maryland’s numbers are also lower than before.

Part of the reason may be stricter enforcement. John Kuo, Maryland’s Highway safety representative, says the new ignition interlock law that requires the devices for those convicted of DUI’s has helped.

“What that allows us to do is to make sure everyone who is part of this program, we track them on a real time basis,” he says.

This allows them to watch more closely for repeat offenders.

Nationwide, the holiday crackdown begins Dec. 14. Last year during the last two weeks of December, 395 people died across the country in drunken driving accidents.

More than 32,000 people died in car crashes in 2011. That is a 1.9 percent decline from the year before.

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