New data released this week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer some hope to those of us in the fight to eliminate drunk driving.
In 2018, drunk driving deaths fell for the second year in a row and accounted for slightly less than 29 percent of all traffic fatalities, the lowest level since NHTSA began tracking the data in 1982.
Yet the declines in alcohol-impaired driving deaths follow two back-to-back years of steep increases — and have yet to fall to levels we saw in 2014, when drunk driving fatalities dropped below 10,000.
The fact remains that drunk driving still kills more people on our nation’s roads than any other cause.
In 2018, 10,511 people died in drunk driving crashes, down 3.6 percent from 2017, when 10,908 died.
As a mother who lost her 16-year-old daughter to a drunk driver, I am grateful anytime one more child or parent or spouse or friend makes it home safely.
But I can’t help but think of the lives needlessly ended and the families permanently altered by this 100 percent preventable crime, especially when technology exists today that has the potential to eliminate the No. 1 killer on our roads.
Federal legislation introduced by Senator Tom Udall, Senator Rick Scott and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell this year would equip all new cars with advanced alcohol detection technology. MADD has challenged the auto industry to move quickly to develop and deploy these systems, which would save thousands of lives each year.
Every day, 29 people are killed in drunk driving crashes. That is one person every 50 minutes. Another 835 are injured each day, or one every two minutes.
One drunk driving death is too many. I know.
The death of my daughter, Helen Marie, changed the course of my life and the fabric of our family forever. It also affected our entire community. Helen Marie was rollerblading on a bike path near rush hour when she was struck and killed by an alcohol- and marijuana-impaired teen driver, who went to prison for the crime.
I found MADD the same way nearly 1 million others have — because someone else chose to drive while impaired by alcohol or other drugs. We need technology to stop people who refuse to make the right choice to never drink and drive.
According to NHTSA, vehicle improvements like air bags have helped drastically reduce the number of traffic fatalities, which have been on a downward trend for four decades.
If advanced alcohol detection is adopted as a standard safety feature on all new cars, much like air bags, we could bring the number of drunk driving deaths to zero.
That is the day I am working toward.