Holidays and impaired driving don’t mix

With the holidays here, it’s a good time to talk about impaired driving and what communities can do to prevent it.

Twenty-nine years ago, Larry Mahoney drove his pickup truck down the wrong side of Kentucky’s Interstate 71 hitting a church bus head on and killing 24 children and three adults. The incident, which became known as the Carrollton Bus Crash, remains the deadliest drunk driving incident in American history. The crash received national media attention and resulted in a crackdown on drunk driving. Between 1982 and 2014, the number of annual drunk driving fatalities decreased by 51percent; then they started to rise.

(MGN Online)

A new report from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2016, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities increased for the second year in a row and are at the highest level since 2009. The opioid epidemic has rightly received significant attention, but impaired driving remains one of the single most serious threats to public safety — one that is entirely preventable. Progress has been made, but the rising number of fatalities shows more must be done.

This year, the National Center for DWI Courts and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility embarked on a nationwide Reform & Responsibility Tour to explore solutions to immediately reduce impaired driving deaths. Here is what we have found:

We need to screen and assess all Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenders. More robust screening and assessment for DUI offenders allows them to be matched to the appropriate level of supervision and treatment.

Many DUI offenders only need one arrest to never re-offend. They are capable of changing their behavior and do so out of fear of being arrested again. For many, a DUI arrest is a huge wake-up call. But others are not capable of changing without outside intervention.

According to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, repeat offenders commonly suffer from mental health disorders, in addition to substance use issues. Left untreated, repeat DUI offenders are statistically the most dangerous drivers on the road and over-represented in fatal crashes. Research also shows that the earlier the screening and assessment occurs, the greater the likelihood for success.

Better screening and assessment can identify drivers likely to become repeat offenders and ensure they receive more supervision, more accountability and evidence-based treatment.

We need to expand and improve DUI Courts. For over two decades, drug courts have proven that a combination of accountability and treatment can lead people into recovery, reduce crime, and save resources.

Building on the success of our nation’s drug court movement, DUI courts serve repeat and/or high blood alcohol content (BAC) DUI offenders with substance use disorders. DUI court participants are under strict supervision. They have mandated home visits, continuous alcohol monitoring, and frequent appearances in court. They undergo rigorous individual treatment and participate in group therapy. They must pass frequent and random drug tests. In addition to all of this, they’re required to hold down a job, perform community service, or advance their education.

Research on this combination of accountability and treatment shows that DUI courts are the most successful way to reduce impaired driving, decreasing recidivism by as much as 60 percent, all while saving taxpayers money: an incredible $3.19 is saved by society, for every $1 invested in a DUI court.

We need evidence-based supervision and technology. Many states have adopted ignition interlock programs for repeat offenders, so they can’t drive a car if they’ve been drinking. Ignition interlock has been found to reduce repeat impaired driving by about two thirds. Unfortunately, despite the passage of legislation supporting the use of these devices, this technology often remains underutilized by local communities.

Continuous alcohol monitoring (CAM) technology can be a critical tool for ensuring compliance and supervision. CAM monitors alcohol consumption and can relay data back to law enforcement. Research has found the use of CAM to improve enforcement of abstinence orders and is more effective than random testing.

Used in conjunction with assessment and appropriate treatment interventions that target individual needs, supervision and technology can play a vital role in getting DUI offenders the support they need.

We need to take action. Larry Mahoney was not a first time offender on the fateful night he took 27 lives. Several years before the crash, he was arrested and charged with a DUI. If we knew then, what we know now, would tragedy have been avoided?  We’ll never know the answer to that question. However, life is too valuable to risk another tragedy like this. There is an urgent need now to robustly implement and strengthen solutions that will protect public safety and save resources while putting impaired drivers in treatment and holding them accountable.

We’ve made tremendous progress on this issue since the 1980s. Now is the time to continue our momentum and do more.


—Information provided by Jim Eberspacher and Nation Center for DWI Courts