Drunk-Driving Deaths Rise in Oklahoma, Fall Elsewhere
Deaths from drunk driving jumped 10% in Oklahoma during 1994-2012, even as they fell 21% nationwide. “We’re bad,” Gary Thomas, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office admitted recently to Oklahoma Watch. “We couldn’t get much worse.”
Oklahoma Watch writer Shaun Hittle told public radio station KGOU that state officials and safety experts are puzzled by the numbers. The state’s traffic laws are similar to those in the rest of the country.
Traffic Deaths in Oklahoma Remain High
Overall, about 700 to 800 traffic fatalities have occurred every year in Oklahoma since 1994, though traffic deaths nationally have fallen about 20%. Drunk-driving deaths rose 5% in Oklahoma during 2012.
About 58% of Oklahomans who died in traffic crashes were not wearing seat belts, compared with the national rate of 51%.
In most states, better safety equipment, public education, and tough drunk driving laws have cut drunk-driving deaths.
In 2011, Oklahoma began requiring first-time drunk-driving offenders to use ignition interlock devices that test a driver’s blood alcohol content before a vehicle will start. But such technological advances and strict DUI laws haven’t reduced drunk-driving fatalities.
Lt. Garrett Vowell, Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s impaired-driving enforcement coordinator, told Hittle that budget cuts in recent years have reduced the number of officers and resources to combat drunk driving.
Officials are advocating for more impaired-driver checkpoints and greater efforts to curtail underage drinkers. However, with the Department of Public Safety facing a $19 million reduction in state funding, Oklahomans may see fewer police on the streets to enforce law against intoxicated driving.
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