Monday, October 01, 2001

Fatal crashes drop since DUI change




By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A year after Kentucky enacted the Tristate's toughest drunken-driving law, authorities say that fatal collisions involving alcohol have dropped by one-fourth, while deaths in those accidents are down 21 percent.

        Since lowering the blood-alcohol concentration used to determine drunken driving from 0.10 to 0.08, the Bluegrass State also has seen drops in alcohol-related collisions and injuries, and property damage in accidents where alcohol was a factor, Kentucky State Police said.

        When compared with the 17 states that adopted the 0.08 BAC before Kentucky, those decreases are some of the largest in the nation, said Michele Focht, assistant director of public policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving National.

        For example, in Illinois, where the 0.08 standard began in 1997, the number of alcohol-related fatal crashes dropped by 13.7 percent — about half of the 25 percent drop that Kentucky had.

        “I look at those figures not as numbers, but as people whose lives were saved by .08,” said Sara McKinney of Louisville, the state chair of Kentucky MADD. “The faster these other states pass this, the more lives that are going to be spared.”

        Efforts to revise Kentucky's DUI law began in the early 1990s, and were spawned, in part, by the nation's deadliest drunken-driving accident. In May 1988, Larry Mahoney's vehicle slammed into a church bus near Carrollton, killing 27 people returning from Kings Island.

        Along with the tougher law enacted Oct. 1, 2000, authorities credit:

        • The new Click It or Ticket program that Kentucky State Police sponsored for two weeks in May. Law enforcement agencies in every county in the state set up traffic checkpoints to encourage seat-belt usage. Subsequently, usage increased from 60 percent to nearly 70 percent, said Lt. Lisa Rudzinski, commander of public affairs for the state police.

        • Support from police, prosecutors and the legal system.

        The Frankfort-based Administrative Office of the Courts could not provide statewide information on arrests and convictions since the DUI law changed, but Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson has kept his own statistics for Northern Kentucky's most populous county.

        During the second quarter of 2001, Mr. Edmondson found that the DUI conviction rate in Kenton County was 95 percent, up 2 percent from the first-quarter conviction rate of 93 percent. That compares with 82 percent a year ago, when the 0.08 BAC standard was adopted.

        • Increased public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, largely through publicity about Kentucky's new 0.08 standard, and campaigns by groups such as MADD, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Kentucky State Police Governor's Highway Safety Program.

        As a result, Mr. Edmondson said, “Juries are backing (prosecutors) up now in DUI cases,” and Kenton County residents, especially young people, are increasingly relying on designated drivers or calling a cab if they think they've had too much to drink.

        Typical of that sentiment is Taylor Mill resident Debbie Augsback. “I just had my 20th class reunion and we were all saying, "Which one's the designated driver?'” she said.

        With the tougher blood-alcohol standard, the 38-year-old nurse and mother of two said that she now limits herself to two glasses of wine when dining out with friends.

        Operators of Kentucky restaurants and bars say the publicity surrounding the lower BAC standard has prompted many customers to reduce their alcoholic intake, rely more on designated drivers, keep limos on call for large public parties, and call a taxi or a friend when they think they've exceeded their legal limit.

        “In cases where customers used to get a bottle of wine with their meal, now maybe they're having a glass or two,” said Stacy Roof, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Restaurant Association.

        At Irene's Little Bar in Crescent Springs, owners George and Irene Stewart have noticed that more customers now call a cab or have a friend drive them home when they think they've had too much to drink.

        “I can always tell whether it's a good night or not by the number of cars left in the parking lot,” Ms. Stewart said. “I think the new law has made people more conscious of how much they're drinking.”

        At Dee Felice Cafe in Covington's MainStrasse neighborhood, owner Shelly D. Nelson has noticed that more customers are drinking wine instead of mixed drinks and groups celebrating a special occasion usually have limos waiting outside.

        While Ms. Roof says the new DUI law has affected restaurant business “to a small degree,” most operators of restaurants and bars have come to accept it.

        “I think, overall, as long as they stay at .08 and don't go any lower, I can live with it,” said Craig Johnson, co-owner of Covington's Cock and Bull English Pub.

       



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