Alaska editorial: Fatal behavior: Alaskans must shun alcohol while driving

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

 

Traffic accidents killed 56 people on Alaska roads in 2010, and almost a third of the accidents involved a driver with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.

That’s a statistic Alaskans should bear in mind as they celebrate the Fourth of July and other events this week. Everyone should do his or her part to keep inebriated people from driving their cars, as well as their four-wheelers and boats.

The traffic statistics from the most recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report show just how risky it is to drive while impaired above the legal limit.

Alaskans drive a lot. The vast majority of them are perfectly sober. Yet a third of the fatal accidents in 2010 involved drivers who had more to drink than the law allows.

That fact illustrates the poor odds people face when getting behind the wheel in such a condition.

Alaska’s 2010 statistics also demonstrate why the maximum blood alcohol content is set by law at 0.08 grams per deciliter. Of the fatalities in accidents where a driver had imbibed at least some alcohol:

— One involved a driver whose blood alcohol content was between 0.01 and 0.07.

— Five involved drivers with readings between 0.08 and 0.15.

— Eleven involved drivers with readings above 0.15.

Obviously, being very drunk creates the worst odds. But being a little “buzzed” increases the chances of a fatal accident immensely, as one can see from the numbers.

The Alaska State Troopers’ Bureau of Highway Patrol is doing its part to discourage this sort of behavior this week. The bureau started conducting overtime patrols on June 29 and will continue through July 8.

“Troopers will be looking for aggressive, distracted and impaired driving,” the bureau said last week.

Troopers said they expect especially heavy traffic south of Anchorage as people travel to the Girdwood Forest Fair, the Mount Marathon race in Seward and fishing spots on the Kenai Peninsula.

Any stretch of road can be dangerous when a drunken driver is on it, though. Troopers recommend driving with lights on to increase a vehicle’s visibility. To reduce the likelihood of unsafe passing, they remind drivers who are going slower than the speed limit to pull over when five or more cars stack behind them. Finally, they say, everyone should be “REDDI” to “report every dangerous driver immediately” by calling 911.

The rate of drunken driving is slowly falling nationwide, but it has a long way to go before it is eliminated. Alaskans should do their part to reinforce the trend — starting today.

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