MADD gives state a B-minusBy Jaymes K. Song
Hawaii could shatter last year's record of the fewest alcohol-related traffic deaths, but the most dangerous time of the year to be on the roads is fast approaching.
The state recorded 24 alcohol-related deaths as of Oct. 31, according to a county survey. Last year, Hawaii had 56 alcohol-related fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the lowest since such numbers were recorded.
The falling numbers for the past three years earned the state a B-minus on a "Rating the States" survey report released yesterday by Mothers Against Drunken Driving.
Hawaii's grade is up slightly from a C-plus received in the previous report in 1996.
The grade is based on nine categories including: governor, legislature, law enforcement and youth education. But most of the report was weighted on the number of alcohol-related fatalities and on drunken-driving laws.
"I remember when drunk driving in Hawaii, and across the country, was not given the kind of attention and enforcement that it needed," Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono said to city, law enforcement and MADD officials yesterday. "Obviously, we have come a long way.
"This grade means that fewer are getting behind the wheel in Hawaii and driving while drunk. And it means we are saving lives," she added. "However, we have a way to go because a B- is not an A."
MADD Hawaii President Kathryn Nelson credited the decline to partnerships, law enforcement and increased awareness.
"We hope people in Hawaii are tired of the carnage on the road," she said.
Honolulu police Sgt. Robert Lung said there are fewer drunken drivers on the road even though arrests have remained steady for the past five years.
He credited education and tools such as drunken-driving checkpoints, like the one scheduled for tonight. Lung said although the checkpoints don't accumulate a lot of arrests, they do deter many motorists from driving under the influence or drinking too much.
Lung estimated that about a third of the drunken-driving arrests are from multiple offenders, who are drivers with two or more drunken-driving arrests.
Nelson said she was pleased with the decline so far this year, but points out the holiday season is just starting.
"We're still holding our breath," she said. "It could all change overnight. One big crash can just really send statistics into a spiral."
Hawaii was one of 29 states that received a B-minus or better in the latest MADD report.
California earned the highest grade in the nation with an A. Florida, North Carolina and Utah followed with an A-minus.
Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota were ranked the lowest with a D-plus. The nation as a whole earned a grade of a C-plus, up from a C.
Last year, 15,935 people were killed nationwide and more than 800,000 were injured in alcohol-related traffic crashes, according to MADD. MADD estimated 250 could be killed and 13,000 others injured during the Thanksgiving weekend.