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Drunken driving deaths fall across DC area

The number of deaths caused by drunken driving dropped by double digits in the D.C. area in 2015, according to a new report. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — The number of deaths caused by drunken driving dropped by double digits in the D.C. area in 2015, amid smaller decreases in the number of alcohol-related crashes and arrests, according to a new report.

Alcohol- and drug-related traffic deaths in the D.C. area dropped by nearly 15 percent between 2014 and 2015 — from 88 deaths to 75, according to the report released Feb. 20 by the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which goes by the acronym WRAP.

Other findings in the report:

  • The number of overall crashes stemming from drunken driving declined by nearly 4 percent in 2015, from 4,217 to 4,055 crashes.
  • Injuries caused by drunken drivers dropped by nearly 9 percent, from 2,157 to 1,963.
  • And the number of arrests dropped across the region by nearly 8 percent, from more than 16,000 to 14,801.

The decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities follows back-to-back increases in 2013 and 2014.

“To have those numbers come back down is a great thing,” WRAP’s president, Kurt Erickson, told WTOP in an interview. “But we are still a region that is annually arresting nearly 15,000 persons for drunk driving on an annual basis — roughly the populations of Falls Church and Chevy Chase combined being arrested for drunk driving every single just in this region, alone. So, there’s still more work to be done.”

The biggest declines in alcohol-related traffic deaths came in D.C., where deaths dropped by 53 percent in 2015. Deaths dropped by 50 percent in Prince William County and 66 percent in Loudon County.

Erickson attributed the declines in those counties to stepped-up drunk driving prevention activities, including sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, which describes concentrating law enforcement in specific areas to catch impaired drivers.

However, even though traffic deaths compared to the year before, alcohol plays a bigger factor in fatal crashes in the D.C. area than elsewhere in the U.S. Of the area’s 229 traffic-related deaths, 32.7 percent of these roadway deaths were alcohol or drug related, compared to the nationwide average of 29 percent.

Historically, the D.C. area has come in below the national average, Erickson said.

“You hear a lot that we must have won the fight against drunk driving — it’s on the decline and so forth,” Erickson said. “When nearly a third of your persons being killed in these 100 percent preventable crashes still involve drunk drivers shows that there’s more work to be done.”

Another potential trouble spot: the continued decline in drunken driving arrests. In Northern Virginia, alone, they fell by more than 16 percent.

“That’s not necessarily always a good thing,” Erickson said. “I’m not too sure that less people were out there drinking and driving as much as it was perhaps having less manpower to try to identify those impaired drivers.”

The report, “How Safe are Our Roads?” was prepared by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and is based on 2015 data — the most recent available — collected by local law enforcement agencies across the D.C. area.

The data includes data from D.C.; Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland; and several counties in Northern Virginia, including Arlington County, Fairfax County and Prince William County.


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