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Mass. drunken driving death rate makes one of nation's biggest jumps
Report: Vermont does best in study from 1998-2002
The drunken driving death rate in Massachusetts is going up, a new government report shows.
The report released today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows Massachusetts' rate of alcohol-related driving deaths rose by a greater percentage during a four-year period than most other states' rates.
Between 1998 and 2002, the state's rate of alcohol-related fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles-traveled increased almost 14 percent, the report says.
Only six states had a worse rate: Colorado, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Kansas and South Carolina.
Vermont was the best state in the report, showing the largest decline in its death rate. During the same four-year period, the state cut its fatality rate per 100 million vehicle-miles-traveled by 54 percent.
New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut all saw significant reductions too. New Hampshire's rate fell 24 percent; Maine's dropped 14.6 percent; and Connecticut's rate fell 8.2 percent.
"Obviously the statistics show that there is still plenty for room for improvement in Massachusetts," said Nicole Eagan, spokeswoman for the state chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"MADD is working hard to lower the fatality trends and needs the help of every community across the state," she said.
Although Massachusetts' death rate increased over those four years, the rate did not change from 2001 to 2002, when 48 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol related.
The Traffic Safety Administration defines an alcohol-related crash as one in which a driver has a blood-alcohol level of 0.01 or higher. In Massachusetts, drivers can be charged with drunken driving when they have a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher.
The Patriot Ledger last month published a three-part special report highlighting problems with the state's drunken driving laws.
The report profiled more than half a dozen multiple offenders facing their fifth, sixth, even ninth drunken driving conviction, all still behind the wheel as recently as August. Of more than 7,000 drunken drivers convicted in state district courts last year, only 15 percent received any jail time, the report showed.
The report also showed that while the percentage of fatalities caused by drunken driving has declined nationally during the past 20 years, Massachusetts' percentage has declined at a lower rate than the national average, and only marginally since 1993.
Massachusetts also trailed far behind other states in adopting laws aimed at multiple drunken driving offenders, the Ledger report showed.
MADD last year gave Massachusetts a failing grade in the category of enacting tough drunken driving laws aimed at repeat offenders, including vehicle impoundment and forfeiture and license plate confiscation.
The state was the last in the nation to pass the "per se" law, which defines a 0.08 blood-alcohol level as irrefutable proof of intoxication, rather than just evidence of drunkenness.
Right now, the state is in the process of enacting a law that would require repeat drunken drivers to install ignition locking devices on their cars that would prevent the cars from starting when the drivers are drunk. That system is already in place in some other states.
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