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Statewide coalition wants impaired drivers off the road

By Staff | Dec 11, 2016

Iowa State Trooper Vince Kurtz said one of the factors influencing the rise in traffic fatalities on our state’s roads is an increase in the number of impaired drivers.

The total number of traffic fatalities last year was 320. Already this year, 348 people have been killed on Iowa roads.

A March 26 crash killed two Des Moines police officers and an inmate they were transporting on Interstate 80. The crash was caused by a heavily-intoxicated, wrong-way driver who also was killed.

Less than three weeks later, Gov. Terry Branstad pushed a Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau-led coalition, and charged them with the task of developing a strategy to prevent and reduce impaired driving.

In recent years, Iowa has made little headway in reducing the percentage of repeat drunken drivers. Data from the Iowa Court Information System shows 26 percent of the 11,628 motorists convicted of driving impaired had previously been caught driving while intoxicated.

Last session, the Iowa State Legislature failed to act on proposals that would have meant tougher controls on impaired drivers, such as mandatory ignition interlock devices and twice-daily check-ins for breath tests.

According to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division, Emmet County’s neighbor, Dickinson County, sells 6.11 gallons of alcohol per member of the over 21 population. The popularity of Dickinson County as a vacation area is a factor in the fact that their rate is almost twice the rate of any other county in Iowa.

Emmet County ranks 42 of 99 counties, selling 2.05 gallons per person over 21, per year.

The data did not connect the amount of alcohol consumed per capita with the number of drunk driving collisions.

Iowans may take more risk, driving on county and rural back roads, believing they can make it home in familiar environs. In a 2012 survey, 3.1 percent of Iowa adults reported that, in the previous 30 days, they had driven after drinking too much. Nationally, 1.9 percent of adults reported they drove after drinking too much, the survey showed.

Iowa’s drunk drivers are more intoxicated, and killing more people, yet fewer are losing their licenses, according to statistics from the Iowa Department of Transportation.

Across the U.S., 31 percent of traffic fatalities were caused by impaired drivers, resulting in nearly 10,000 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The new Coalition is tracing place of last drink. It’s illegal in Iowa for establishments to serve alcohol to impaired customers, but little has been done to enforce the law, according to the Iowa Association for Justice.

The popularity of craft beers has been identified as a possible reason there are more impaired drivers with higher blood alcohol levels. A couple of beers is no longer just a couple of beers at 10 proof.

The coalition, which meets three times per year, will continue to look for ways to crack down on impaired driving.