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Alcohol-related traffic deaths in DC region top national average

WASHINGTON — The number of drunken driving deaths in the D.C. region significantly exceeds the U.S. average, an annual report released Wednesday shows.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program’s “How Safe Are Our Roads? 2015 Preliminary Report” shows that nationwide 31 percent of all fatal crashes involve alcohol compared to 40.5 percent locally.

Comparing data from 2013 to 2014, local drunken driving deaths are up by 6.2 percent.

“That’s a significant uptick. And that’s a significant, unfortunate, increase above the national average,” said Washington Regional Alcohol Program President Kurt Erickson.

Erickson believes a declining number of arrests for impaired driving — down by 5.63 percent — might be partially responsible.

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and other agencies, according to Erickson, openly speculate that budgetary and manpower issues hurt enforcement efforts.

“A lot of these law enforcement agencies clearly aren’t fully staffed, and that’s a major issue,” Erickson said.

Another potential issue could reflect a growing problem that only promises to worsen: drivers impaired by a combination of alcohol and drugs.

“It is the new frontier, unfortunately. And whereas we’d all like to benefit from existing data right now that says empirically that ‘these type of drugs’ influence ‘this type of driving’ — it’s not there yet.”

The alcohol program’s road safety report was presented to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The report is considered preliminary because localities still are isolating cases that involve both alcohol and drugs from those that involve just alcohol.

Erickson wants the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require localities to separate drug and alcohol impairment statistics.

The preliminary report includes data from D.C., Montgomery, Prince George’s, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

See alcohol-impaired, traffic fatality data by local jurisdiction on the Council of Government’s website.

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