ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's alcohol-related traffic death rate has gone down by more than half in the last 20 years but remains well above the national average, a government study shows.
Alaska at .91 alcohol-related fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel ranked eighth worst among states in 2001, according to statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
South Carolina at 1.27 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled had the highest rate among states, followed by Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico. Utah had the lowest rate.
Puerto Rico at 1.38 had the highest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the United States. The District of Columbia also ranked high.
The agency found that Alaska's alcohol-related fatalities rate in the last 20 years has gone down 51 percent, keeping with a national trend that saw the rate fall 62 percent.
In 2001, Alaska had 85 fatal auto accidents and half of those were alcohol-related. Most of the alcohol-related fatalities occurred around the state's major population centers of Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Marti Greeson, executive director of the Anchorage chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Alaska has made gains on the legislative front. The state raised penalties for drunken driving and imposed criminal penalties for those who furnish alcohol to minors. It increased the alcohol tax. A state law was passed allowing municipalities to confiscate cars of drunken drivers, she said.
But when it comes to the percentage of fatalities that are alcohol-related, the state remains stubbornly at about 50 percent, Greeson said. That will not change until Alaskans change their tolerant attitudes toward drinking and driving, she said.
Mary Rodman-Lopez, project assistant for the Alaska Highway Safety Office in Juneau, agreed.
''It is a big problem in this state. Hopefully we're getting the message across,'' she said.
Rodman-Lopez pointed to the importance of statewide media campaigns such as ''Drive Hammered. Get Nailed,'' launched Dec. 13 and running through the holiday season on radio and television, in movie theaters and in newspapers.
''It basically says you drive drunk you are going to get arrested,'' she said.
Alaska State Troopers also have enough federal money this holiday season to pay for 1,000 hours of overtime from Dec. 20 through Jan. 4. Troopers will be looking for drunk drivers and seat belt violators, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.
The state was right in 2001 to lower the blood alcohol level for drunken driving from .10 to .08, but more needs to be done, said Ron Perkins, executive director of the Alaska Injury Prevention Center.
Law enforcement should utilize sobriety checkpoints, he said. And harsher penalties should be levied against drivers who show a high blood alcohol level of 1.5 or more.
Those drivers tend to be the repeat offenders, he said. They should only get their licenses back with a restriction setting lower blood alcohol levels from zero to .04, Perkins said.
''Our goal is to get drunk drivers off the roads because they are killing us and our families,'' he said.
Rodman-Lopez said male drivers under age 21 are the largest group involved in drunken driving accidents. In 2000, they were involved in 9.6 percent of traffic collisions but made up only 5.9 percent of the state's licensed drivers. Nearly a fifth of all alcohol-related crashes occur between midnight and 2 a.m.
Perkins said registering beer kegs under the buyer's name might inhibit underage drinking at parties.
''There's quite a bit more that needs to be done,'' he said.
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