DUI deaths, injuries down in DC area, but drunken-driving crashes, arrests up

How safe are D.C.-area roads when it comes to issues related to drunken driving? Your answer may depend on which data you examine.

In 2018, roads regionwide saw 85 alcohol and/or drug-impaired traffic fatalities, which is a 1.16% percent decrease from the previous year. The number of local impaired driving injuries also decreased by more than 6%. But, the total number of drunken-driving crashes went up by 0.56%.

“It’s the proverbial mixed bag,” said Kurt Erickson, president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, or WRAP.

Erickson spoke with WTOP before presenting WRAP’s 27th-annual “How Safe are Our Roads? Annual Data Report on the Impact of Drunk Driving on Road Safety in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Region” to the Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board on Wednesday.

The report parses the latest data available and finds:

  • Fatalities. Local alcohol and/or drug-impaired traffic fatalities decreased by 1.16% between 2017 and 2018 (from 86 to 85 such fatalities).
  • Crashes. Area traffic crashes attributed to alcohol and/or drugs increased 0.56% between 2017 and 2018 (from 4,311 to 4,335 such crashes), while the total number of metro-area fatal crashes rose by 3.69%.
  • Injuries. Regional alcohol and/or drug-related traffic injuries decreased 6.19% between 2017 and 2018 (from 1,986 to 1,863 such injuries).
  • Arrests. Local arrests for either driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) increased 3.51% between 2017 and 2018 (from 13,808 to 14,293 such arrests).

D.C. has been particularly aggressive regarding enforcement.

“They had a nearly 8% increase in these DUI arrests, again for the sixth consecutive year in 2018,” Erickson said.

Still, that number of drunken-driving arrests is not good, he said.

“It’s universally a negative that we are still are a region that annually arrests nearly 14,000 persons for DUI and that nearly a third, 30%, of all traffic deaths still in this region involve drunk drivers,” Erickson told members of the Transportation Planning Board who had gathered virtually.

“Again, that’s a 100% preventable crime,” Erickson declared.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2018 that 29% of total U.S. vehicular deaths involved someone alcohol-impaired compared to this area’s 30%.

Erickson said that historically, D.C.-area traffic fatalities have been lower than national numbers. He attributes that to high-area awareness and available alternatives, such as transit, ride-share, urban density and the Sober Ride Program that’s taken 80,000 would-be drunken drivers off roads.

“So, when we start getting away from that national percentage, I think that is a cause for concern,” Erickson said. “It’s only a 1% difference, but that certainly is something we need to look at.”

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