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Wayne Parsons
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Interstate Highways Are No Place For Drunk Drivers Over The Labor Day Weekend

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As the Labor day weekend approaches police across the nation are cracking down on drunk driving. Those of us who see the tragic results of dangerous driving behavior support the police and hope that our phones ring silent next week. That’s why 5 of us (Steve Lombardi, Devon Glass, Michael Bryant, Steve Lombardi and Rick Shapiro), all members of Injury Board, are writing about highway safety this month _ focusing on the interstate highway system. So today I write about alcohol and the intoxicated user of the interstate highways from Hawaii to Virginia. Our families, like yours, will be on the highways and roads this weekend and we pray that they all come home safe.

The question posed by Steve Lombardi about a death and injury collisions on an interstate highway makes a good point. Who wins and loses when a Ford Focus and a fully-loaded semi-truck crash? - Steve Lombardi from The Lombardi Law Firm (Iowa), August 25, 2009

Let me add some fuel to the discussion by asking how many of the drivers of the Ford Focus or the truck are drunk at any given moment on our interstate highways? That grandmother that, like Mr. Lombardi, likes to push 70 mph on the interstate is a lot safer than the college kid or Realtor in the Ford Focus who is going 45 mph with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.17. In fact there is no comparison. The statistics are remarkable. Forty percent (40%) _ let me pause and catch my breath _ of car crash deaths in Hawaii involve drunk drivers. Forty percent (40%) of the fatal automobile accidents in Hawaii are alcohol related. I wrote on this subject on Monday: Drunk Drivers Caused 40% of Traffic Fatalities In Hawaii In 2006

But where are the accidents happening? Are they more frequent on interstate highways across the country? I wonder what Devon Glass from Church Wyble, P.C. and Steve Lombardi from The Lombardi Law Firm and Mike Bryant see in the highway injury and death statistics in Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota. Mike was recently installed as the president of the Minnesota Association of Justice and is a nationally recognized expert in accident and injury prevention. Or what does Rick Shapiro see on Highways in Virginia or Washington D.C.? Let’s look at an interesting data source that puts geography – accident location – into the drunk driving car crashes that happen on or highways. Check out DUIMap.org:

RiskyRoads.org Maps Fatal Accident Hot Spots

Find out if you live or work near a Drunk Driving or Fatal Accident Hot Spot

Atlanta, GA (PRWEB) March 3, 2009 — Today, MapLarge.com released a set of online mapping tools that anyone can use to view the most fatal and stressed roads in our nation’s transportation infrastructure. The Risky Roads map shows the areas with the most traffic fatalities and the DUI Map shows the areas with the most DUI related traffic fatalities.

Map of DUI Accidents Map of DUI Accidents

Florida and Georgia Road Maps show the enormous amount of traffic increases on our roads. Many highways and roads have more than doubled the amount of traffic they carry in the last six years.

Risky Roads

Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, RiskyRoads.org maps the concentration of fatal accidents that occur within 1000 feet of one another. The result is a heat map that emphasizes the country’s worst hot spots for traffic fatalities.

State DUI Maps
DUIMap.org is a heat map showing concentrations of fatal DUI accidents. Clusters of DUI fatalities highlight the most dangerous areas where drunk driving accidents occur.

Risky Roads reminds us of a chilling statistic from the Center For Disease Control (CDC):

According to the CDC, 36 people die every day due to drunk drivers. The national annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.

I blinked at the fact that the CDC has the word "disease" in its name and we were talking about car crashes and truck collisions. But then I realized that people cause the death and injury and that alcoholism is a disease.

So let’s look at DUI related car deaths in Honolulu via DUIMap.org and Risky Roads:

This heat map displays concentrations of fatal Drunk Driving traffic accidents in Hawaii. Clusters of DUI fatalities highlight the most dangerous areas where drunk driving accidents occur. Each icon on the map represents the location of a DUI motor vehicle crash that resulted in a fatality. The color of the icon represents the number of additional DUI motor vehicle crashes within 1 mile. Click on each icon to see the date and time of the accident.

In DUIMaps you can zome in to see the street and exact locations. As you can see, all three of Hawaii’s interstate highways are on this map and we have a number of death cases involving alcohol on the H-1. You can also see this map in a satellite photo with just one click:

Drilling down to see an area of particular interest gets me back to my article on the 55 mph speed limit in Hawaii. I have written two recent articles on the subject of speed and interstate highways:

Hawaii Freeway Chronicles #1: What Are The Danger Points On H-1, H-2 and H-3?, by Wayne Parsons of Wayne Parsons Law Offices. (Hawaii), August 27, 2009, and Death and Injury On Interstate Highways Increase With Higher Speed Limits, Wayne Parsons, August 29, 2009 2:31 AM. In the latter I talked about the 45 mph speed limit in a section on the H-1 going through McCully and about the road rage that we experience from drivers who hate to have to slow down. As I look at the accident map below from DUIMap.org it seems that there are no DUI deaths in that section for the time period covered by the map.

So what is it? Does the lower speed limit save lives? Or is an interstate highway inherently safer because it has one way traffic, regulated interchanges with safe on ramps and off ramps and several lanes of travel? What do you think? I’d like to hear from Lombardi, Glass, Bryant and Shapiro on this subject. And from the outside it would be great to hear the voice of transportation engineers and MADD who really are the ones fighting for safer street and interstate highways.

Devon Glass has written on the subject of interstate highway safety and his articles are worth a careful read:

Are Double-Bottomed Semis More or Less Dangerous to You? - Devon Glass from Church Wyble, P.C. (Michigan), August 26, 2009;

In the latter article Devon points to engineering reasons for his article title. Why does speed matter?

· It increases the distance a vehicle travels from the time a driver detects an emergency to the time a driver reacts.

· It increases the distance needed to stop a vehicle once an emergency is perceived.

· It increases the “crash energy” by the square of speeds—when an impact speed increases from 40 to 60 mph, the energy that needs to be managed increases by 125%. In other words, the crash impact is going to be astronomically greater than if you were going at a slower speed.

Add slower reaction times, blurred vision and fatigue caused by alcohol and the situation deteriorates rapidly. A half a second slower to hit the brakes means the car crash is significantly higher impact.

I am interested in the view from the satellite in Lansing and Des Moines and St. Cloud.

When it comes to highway safety on the interstate highway system, one thing is for sure: drinking and driving don’t mix. If you drink, stay off the interstate be it the H-1 or I-95.

Why Speeders on the Highway Cause More Serious Accidents, Glass, August 28, 2009

4 Comments

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    Wayne that’s an eye-opening post. The highways and interstates in mountainous western NC are a bit like those in Hawai’i with steep grades and often sharp curves. We also have an enormous problem with DWI. In North Carolina in 2008, there were 11,968 alcohol-related crashes resulting in 433 fatalities and 9,263 injuries.

    As you mentioned, the Labor Day holiday usually sees an uptick in the number of drunk drivers on the road and an increased enforcement effort. Many states, including North Carolina will participate in the “Booze It & Lose It” campaign this Labor Day. This will be the 15th year for the program in NC. Since 1994 the program has racked up more than 103,000 DWI citations.

    Here’s to hoping the phone doesn’t ring next week!

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    Aloha, Pierce! We are all different but in most basic ways we are the same from Honolulu to I am impressed by the statistics in North Carolina and even more in the Booze It and Lose It project. The police see the carnage and they must get sick of that part of their jobs. We just had a guy in Honolulu who was convicted of negligent homicide in 2005 and given a 6 month jail term. He got out of jail, went to Virginia and was arrested with a 0.21 BAC. They extradited him back to Hawaii and the prosecutor asked for parole revocation and a 20 year term and Judge Pollack gave him 20. This Labor Day weekend there is a national police effort to reel in women driving drunk: http://honolulu.injuryboard.com/automobile-accidents/nationwide-crackdown-on-drunk-drivers-targets-women.aspx?googleid=269370
    I am not sure about how the police do it but I do hope that all people – male or female – will use a designated driver this coming weekend, and every day of the year!

  3. Steve Lombardi says:
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    Wayne: Let me first say those are amazing maps; very impressive post. First some of the road rage is brought about by people driving in the left lane purposefully going too slow just to anger those behind them. They are as much at fault as the ones driving too fast because they aren’t a part of the solution, but become a part of the problem.

    As for drunken drivers, I have to agree keeping them off the highways should be a priority. The challenge is how do we do it? The series of posts I ran on wrong-way drivers opened my eyes to driving in the left lane on the interstate, knowing that most wrong-way collisions are with drunken drivers. I’m going to guess that with the economy in the tank people are more miserable and depressed causing more to drink and drive. Human behavior is what it is and it’s not working just throwing them all in jail. Why shouldn’t we try road crews to clean up the interstate highways? Fines don’t seem to curtail bad behavior, and shame seems anymore to be a foreign concept when people can make a profit from televising it on reality TV. Perhaps we need to empower bartenders to actually take the keys from people after they administer an onsite breathalyzer test to. What’s the worse offense with that; that someone has to take a taxicab to home and back the next day. Better the cost is borne by the people who drink and then want to drive than society paying through the law enforcement, criminal and civil court systems.

    We’ve got as many problems with drunken driving as Pierce sees in North Carolina, you see in Hawaii and I read about in Iowa. Iowa is pretty flat and even still we have too many crashes involving drunken drivers. I can’t even imagine how drunks could safely drive in the mountains. We can say it’s a national epidemic, create a fictitious war on it or allow MADD to push for more and more criminal penalties, but it’s not solving the problem.

    Labor Day weekend is upon us and I’m not sure what the answer is other than to encourage people to call a cab. As you and Pierce can tell, I’m pretty frustrated with exactly what solution would work better. But you have a great deal of information in this post and it’s well-written. Once again, great post.

  4. Mike Bryant says:
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    Drunk Driving still hold steady and is growing despite the number of highway deaths actually declining in Minnesota. It’s interesting to note that we saw a significant change in Minnesota law that relieved bars of a lot of their responsibility in dram shop cases. Very interesting chart and post Wayne.