Two weeks ago, the National Safety Council (NSC) released its preliminary research findings for traffic fatalities in the United States, revealing that more people are dying in motor vehicle accidents in our state. Specifically, Florida had an 18% increase in motor vehicle accident deaths in 2015, making it the third highest state in traffic deaths (only two states, Oregon and Georgia, had higher percentage increases).
It is a national concern. In the United States overall, motor vehicle deaths were eight percent (8%) higher in 2015 than the prior year, which was record-breaking since the nation hasn’t seen that big of a jump in half a century (50 years). Moreover, 4.4 million people survived car crashes but were seriously injured last year.
Bottom line, the NSC reports that 2015 was the deadliest year for American drivers since 2008. And a big reason for all these millions of people being seriously hurt in motor vehicle accidents and a record number of people dying in traffic fatalities is this: drunk driving, or driving under the influence (DUI).
According to federal studies, as much as a third of these traffic accident deaths can be attributed to drunk driving.
Specifically, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NTHSA) reports that drunk drivers, or “alcohol impaired driving” to use the terms of their study, account for 31% of all the traffic fatalities in the United States. The NTHSA research also found that drunk driving accidents where someone dies are more likely to happen at night, and on the weekend.
The Danger of Drunk Driving Accidents in Florida
In Florida, more people admit to driving their vehicle even though they know that they’ve had too much alcohol to drink than other parts of the country .
And that’s those who will admit to driving drunk.
Most people won’t admit they take the wheel while being impaired. Some drivers may not realize that they are impaired, thinking they’ve only had one drink (or two) or that “buzzed driving” is not drunk driving that is serious enough to get them arrested.
They’re wrong. In Florida, if you are an adult with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher, then you are legally drunk and subject to criminal arrest. Sometimes, one beer will do it.
How can Florida combat these drunk driving dangers and make our roads safer for our family and loved ones?
From my experience as a personal injury lawyer there’s no one simple solution to this problem.
Here are several suggestions we believe would help to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the streets and roadways of Florida. In making our list, we have considered our own experience in accident cases, as well as studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the NHTSA, and the Florida Department of Transportation.
5 Ways To Reduce Drinking & Driving Accidents In Florida
There is no tragedy more heart-wrenching than a death that could have been easily prevented, like a motor vehicle accident where someone dies because of the failure of a driver who was driving impaired by alcohol. Drunk drivers are subject to serious criminal punishment for these accident deaths, as well as serious civil damages in a civil personal injury wrongful death claim.
(In Florida, it is unlawful for a person under the age of 21 to operate a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level or breath-alcohol level of 0.02 or higher (referred to as zero tolerance); 0.08 is the legal limit for drivers 21 and older.)
However, the better result is to prevent that tragedy before it happens. There are actions that can be taken here in Florida to fight against drunk driving and fatal accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.
1. Increase In High Visibility Police Sobriety Checkpoints
Having the police checking vehicles for drunk drivers might save a life, including that of the driver. If police were to check at known locations for drunk driving, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, then more impaired drivers might be caught before an accident, and other drivers might think twice before getting behind the wheel.
Consider the famous nightlife enjoyed here in the Miami / Fort Lauderdale / Palm Beach area. If there was a known police presence around closing time for many of these bars and dance clubs, then would there be an incentive for less drivers to take the wheel after they’ve been drinking? Designated drivers work.
2. More Public Awareness Campaigns of Drunk Driving Facts
Educating the public, like drivers and their loved ones (e.g., teens and their parents), about the risks of driving “buzzed” can go far in decreasing the risk of drunk driving fatalities. Most people are not aware of how little they may have to drink in order to reach the adult level for a DUI in Florida (0.08%) much less the zero- tolerance level of 0.02% for drivers under the age of 21 years.
Will a single beer or a quick glass of white wine impair you as a driver? Even if you don’t think so, because you don’t feel the impact of alcohol, does not mean you are not impaired.
3. Expand Requirements for Ignition Interlocks For Motor Vehicles
Right now, there are devices which criminal judges will order be placed in the cars driven by people who have been caught and convicted of drunk driving. These are “ignition interlocks” and these devices act as on-site, in the vehicle, Breathalyzers.
Before the driver can start the car, he must be tested for alcohol by the device. If the driver breathes into the device and his blood alcohol content is at or above 0.02%, the car will not start. The ignition remains locked by the device.
Our suggestion: expanding the use of the ignition interlock would help decrease the number of drunk driving fatalities in Florida. Maybe all DUI offenders, including first-timers, should have to deal with an interlock for a period of time.
Right now, Florida Statutes 316.193 and 322.271 require an ignition interlock be installed on the vehicles of those arrested and convicted of DUI in Florida after July 1, 2002, after they are eligible for reinstatement of a permanent or restricted driver license and when a driver convicted of DUI applies for a restricted license for work or business purposes.
If the driver must have an ignition interlock, then his Florida driver’s license will have a “P” noted on it, acknowledging the DUI interlock is required.
Specifically, in Florida currently the ignition interlock is required only if:
- First DUI Conviction BAC under 0.15 no minor in car, then only if judge orders it and for as long as the judge determines;
- First DUI Conviction if BAC 0.15 or above, or had minor in car when arrested, then ignition interlock is required by law for at least 6 months;
- Second DUI Conviction, ignition interlock required for at least 1 year;
- Second DUI Conviction, if BAC is 0.15 or more, or if minor in the car at the time arrested with BAC at lower DUI level, then ignition interlock is required by law for at least 2 years;
- Third DUI Conviction, ignition interlock is required by law for at least 2 years; At least 2 years;
- Four or More Convictions (Condition of Hardship License), need the ignition interlock in the vehicle for at least 5 years as required by current Florida law.
4. Get More Money and Funding for Drunk Driving Prevention Programs
There are nonprofit organizations, like the Florida chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (”MADD Florida”) and the Megan Napier Foundation that work to prevent drunk driving accidents and deaths. Programs to educate drivers about the dangers of alcohol-impaired driving, as well as training police officers in spotting a potential drunk driver on the roads, are vital in the fight against fatal drunk driving accidents.
Police officers need training on things like drunk driving, impaired driving, operating a DUI checkpoint, and more. Prevention programs work on a variety of fronts to educate and inform on the issues of drunk driving and how to keep impaired drivers off the road.
State grants and federal funding as well as private support should be encouraged here. Volunteers are always welcome at MADD’s local offices and campaign awareness efforts.
5. Increase Support for Youth-Based Organizations Educating On The Dangers Of Drinking And Driving
According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for teenagers in this country is motor vehicle accidents. Of course, not all of these tragic accidents are caused by drunk driving.
Still, teenage drinking and driving is a serious problem and the reason for many teen age drivers both in high school and in college either being involved in a serious car crash or in a fatal traffic accident.
- In 2013, 17% of teen drivers (between the ages of 16 – 20) who were in a fatal traffic accident had a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or more. (Remember, the legal limit for teens in Florida is 0.02%, which is much lower than 0.08.).
- Most of the teens who died in a drunk driving crash were killed in accidents that happened sometime between mid-afternoon (3:00 p.m.) and midnight.
- Over half of these drunk driving accident deaths involving a teenager happened on a weekend (Friday – Sunday).
NHTSA recommends an increased amount of “youth drinking – and – driving -prevention programs,” where teenagers are encouraged not to drink; not to drink and drive; and definitely not to get in a car where the driver has been driving alcohol.
Sometimes, there may be scare stories, but for the most part these programs work by informing the teenagers and young adults about drunk driving facts as well as ways to avoid situations where there may be alcohol use and abuse.
For instance, Students Against Destructive Decisions (fka Students Against Driving Drunk) is a national organization with over 350,000 active student members. SADD works in teen-oriented ways, like sponsoring alcohol-free proms and graduation parties for teenagers.
According to the Florida chapter of SADD:
- Teens who begin drinking before the age of 14 are five times more likely to be injured while under the influence of alcohol at some point during their lives than those who begin drinking after the age of 21.
- Most teens believe that drinking is less dangerous than using drugs, in spite of the much higher rate (4 times) of alcohol-related deaths.
- Teens need to know that their brain is still growing and that drinking alcohol can seriously damage that brain development, both long term and short term. The damage may not be reversible, either.
- Grades and drunk driving may have a connection. In college, students with GPAs of D or F drink three times as much as alcohol as those who earn As.
Drunk Driving Car Accidents From a Florida Accident Lawyer’s Perspective
I have represented victims of motor vehicle accidents in South Florida for many years now. Not all of these accidents were connected to drunk driving. Some of the accidents were the result of driver error, or mechanical failure, or road hazards.
However, some of the most horrific and life-altering traffic accidents in our experience have been those that were entirely preventable because all that driver had to do was not take the wheel.
Drunk driving crashes are accidents that need not have happened. Period.
Which can be infuriating or depressing, or both; however, what is key is that everyone here in Florida do their part to fight against drunk drivers and impaired driving accidents.
We’d like to never have another client come through our door seeking justice for a drunk driver accident. Until then, it’s important that we all work to get the number of serious traffic accidents and wrongful deaths caused by Florida drunk drivers as low as possible.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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