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One-Third of Deaths in Alcohol-Related Accidents Involved Repeat Drunk Driving Offenders

A new study warns that out of more than 10,000 deaths each year linked to alcohol-impaired driving, at least one-third involve a repeat offender, highlighting the need for better evaluation and treatment of those charged with drunk driving to reduce the risk of future accidents.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report his month, titled High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combating a Critical Threat, which indicates impaired driving remains one of the biggest risks facing motorists nationwide.

Researchers evaluated impaired-driving fatality data collected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 2018, and determined that one alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurred every 50 minutes, accounting for 29 deaths each day and over 10,500 each year.

According to the findings, between 2017 and 2018, a total of 37,473 total motor vehicle fatalities were reported, with impaired drivers accounting for nearly 33% of all reports.

Of the 10,585 alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities reported within the study period, many of them involved a repeat offender, which accounted for about one out of every three fatal drunk driving accidents.

FARS reporting data indicates repeat offenders involved in fatal crashes were also 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for driving under the influence than drivers with no alcohol impairment.

A review of the fatality data over the past decade indicated there has been a 16% increase in the number of impaired drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for both alcohol and other drugs. Researchers specifically looked at data between 2006 and 2016, and discovered the rate of fatally injured drivers that tested positive for drugs increased from 28%to 44%.

Individualized Justice Strategy

Given the increasing occurrence of repeat offenders, authors are calling for a holistic approach to prevent high-risk impaired drivers from re-offending by using a more personalized “individualized justice” strategy.

Rather than imposing the typical legislative response of heavy fines and incarceration, authors recommend lawmakers and authorities take a new course of action which increases the testing drivers for the presence of drugs in addition to alcohol, as many drug-impaired drivers often escape detection due to limitations with enforcement practices or policies that do not require drug testing.

One of the recommendations includes police officers running an immediate check on drivers for prior convictions and conducting field assessments for drug and mental health issues. Officers could then recommend the next step for the offender, such as referrals for alcohol, drug or mental health services before being issued a sentencing hearing.

Although drunk driving accounts for many preventable roadway fatalities, NHTSA officials have warned drivers to not drive when under the influence of drugs either, as jurisdictions have shifted laws on marijuana, making it a legal in a number of states.

Prior studies have shown an upward trend of drug use across the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found more than 20.7 million people over the age of 16 years of age self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol, and another 11.8 million reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

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