Drunk-driving deaths decline

Awareness campaigns, new program contribute to drop in Alaska's fatalities

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2007

Alaska drivers seem to be getting the message to "Drink Responsibly/Drive Responsibly" as drunk-driving fatalities were down by nearly 40 percent last year.

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In a recent assessment published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Alaska reported 23 alcohol-related deaths in 2006, down 14 from 2005.

While the number of fatal crashes caused by drinking generally decreased in the United States during the past two decades, it remained constant in 2006 compared to the prior year.

A slogan urging people to drink and drive responsibly has been widely publicized in nationwide awareness campaigns chiefly paid for by industry producers.

It seems the effort is working.

"Hopefully as we progress as a society, it's becoming more of a taboo to consume alcohol and drive," said Sgt. David Campbell with the Juneau Police Department. The department spends grant money to step up DUI enforcement throughout the year.

Alaska consistently rates at the top of the nation in reducing alcohol-related driving fatalities and underage drinking, said Dale Fox, president of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association (CHARR). The trade organization represents the hospitality industry.

"That's pretty amazing given the young population and the long-term drinking culture of the state," Fox said. "It says a lot about how we've changed the culture."

Along with the 37.8 percent decline in drunk-driving fatalities, Alaska had a significantly lower number of fatalities than states with similar populations, the assessment found. North Dakota and Wyoming reported 50 and 80 alcohol-related traffic deaths, respectively.

Increased enforcement and stricter penalties likely contribute to less drunk driving, but a few local programs are helping the cause.

Deb Barry, manager of Rendezvous in downtown Juneau, said the "safe ride" program proved useful last New Year's Eve as bartenders called free rides for patrons who had consumed too much.

The program, available in Ketchikan for 25 years and offered year-round there, is new in Juneau. Participating establishments pay a fee to be able to offer the rides, which are organized in Juneau for busy holidays by CHARR.

Server certification programs - required across the state - also may contribute to reduced drunk driving. The classes help waiters and waitresses, doormen, bartenders and managers avoid over-serving patrons and identify phony driver's licenses.

Fox said about 6,000 people are certified every year through the organization's program called Techniques in Alcohol Management (TAM).

"For people just starting out it's very helpful," Barry said. "It lets them know about certain situations before they happen so they can be better prepared."

• Contact Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kimberly.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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