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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Data Shows Disturbing Number of Repeat Drunk Drivers on America's Roadways

Nationally, an estimated two million drunk drivers with three or more convictions, including 400,000 drunk drivers with five-time or more convictions will share our roadways this holiday season. These figures are based on data reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by 20 states and the District of Columbia and released today by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The report also includes data for three additional states provided by other sources.

MADD also released its annual state progress report today, which provides each state's drunk driving fatality statistics and available repeat offender data, and highlights efforts on ignition interlock laws as well as sobriety checkpoints.

"These staggering statistics of repeat drunk driving offenders show that law enforcement is doing its job by finding and arresting drunk drivers. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system's 'catch and release' approach to drunk driving remains a huge threat to public safety," says Laura Dean-Mooney, national president of MADD, whose husband, Mike Dean, was killed by a drunk driver just before Thanksgiving in 1991. "MADD's Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving calls for action in all 50 states to stop repeat offenses through comprehensive interlock legislation."

"To keep all motorists safe this holiday season we need to get drunk drivers off the roads and stop them from repeating their crimes," says NHTSA Acting Administrator David Kelly. "Through strong enforcement efforts and increased use of alcohol ignition interlock systems, we can stop repeat offenders from getting back behind the wheel." The National Transportation Safety Board today also called on states for stronger action on drunk driving.

The holiday season is a particularly deadly time on America's roadways. In 2007, nearly 1,500 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. During the holidays, MADD is ramping up its call for every state to introduce interlock laws that cover all convicted drunk drivers, including those facing their first convictions -- as Washington State did in 2007.

"Interlocks have been proven highly effective at reducing recidivism," says Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) of Washington State. "It is vital that we all work together to approve interlocks in every state to help save lives and prevent injuries from this violent and deadly crime."

Eight states including Washington State, New Mexico and Arizona have already approved interlocks for first-time convicted drunk drivers. MADD is launching an effort to introduce bills requiring ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk driving offenders in the remaining 42 states.

"New Mexico was the first state in the nation to mandate ignition interlocks for all convicted offenders. Along with mandatory ignition interlocks, we increased enforcement, public awareness and treatment. Since 2005 we've seen a 20 percent reduction in alcohol-involved fatalities; I am confident our increased efforts along with the mandatory interlock legislation played a large role in reducing fatalities in New Mexico," says Gov. Bill Richardson (D). "Based on New Mexico data, we estimate that in 2006 ignition interlocks prevented some 63,000 alcohol-involved driving events."

"Arizona has taken a strong stand against drunk driving," Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) says. "We have some of the strongest laws in the nation, including a mandatory one-year interlock on cars for the first offense. It is important we take these steps to ensure the safety of Arizonans."

The Robi family can't understand how the law can ignore repeat drunk driving convictions. Ironically, after years of enforcing the law as officers in the Los Angeles Police Department, they've also learned firsthand about multiple convictions. An April 27, 2007 drunk driving crash made them victims/survivors of a four-time repeat drunk driving offender, who injured daughter Jennifer, 12, and her mother, Kath.

"We need stronger laws," says Kath Robi. "The hammer needs to fall on these people. This is outrageous!" Jennifer has been in a cast from her hip to her chest for the past 18 months, to support her spinal injury. Kath, a retired LAPD officer, underwent several surgeries, memory loss, and the inability to walk or drive for months.

An alcohol ignition interlock is a breath test device linked to a vehicle's ignition system. When a convicted drunk driver starts their vehicle, he or she must first blow into the device. The vehicle will not start if the driver is violating probation by having alcohol in his/her system. If interlocks were required for all convicted drunk drivers in the United States, thousands of lives could be saved each year.

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