State officials see some hopeful signs in recent drunken-driving statistics. However, it’s still too early to say North Dakotans are shedding their bad drinking habits.
Over the years the state has topped lists for binge drinking, teen drinking and alcohol-related deaths. These are lists we don’t want to top.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation says the number of deaths and injuries related to drunken driving has dropped in recent years. Drunken-driving deaths in the state dropped from 71 in 2013 to 55 in 2017, according to DOT. Injuries also dropped over that period, from 624 in 2013 to 472 in 2017.
The number of DUI arrests have declined since 2013, according to a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation report. In 2017, law enforcement agencies reported a total of 5,597 arrests for drunken driving, a 3.5 percent increase from 2016 but a 21 percent drop from 7,117 in 2013.
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Preliminary figures from DOT show 103 fatalities in 2018, with 31 alcohol-related. So the number of alcohol-related deaths has continued to decline. That’s a good trend.
State officials hope a program launched nearly a year ago has been having an impact on impaired driving. Vision Zero is a collaborative initiative of NDDOT, state Department of Health, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and Gov. Doug Burgum's office. It’s focused on working toward zero fatalities and serious injuries that result from preventable driving habits.
Vision Zero is the type of program needed to tackle the problems. The five-year plan has a goal of 75 annual fatalities by 2025.
State officials are meeting with communities to develop local strategies. Park River was the first to come up with a plan. Vision Zero also involves working with ABATE on motorcycle education, and training law officers in recognizing driver impairment. It’s also organizing ride services to keep impaired drivers off the road, promoting seat belt campaigns and sobriety checkpoints.
The key will be persuading North Dakotans to change their habits. There needs to be more moderation when it comes to drinking, an awareness to get a ride or for someone to insist on those with too much to drink to get a ride and more alcohol education for those underage.
Vision Zero will only work with the cooperation of the public. Too many people are still dying on our roads and we need to solve the problem.