Drop in DUI deaths
should rate better grade


MADD has given Hawaii a grade of C in its fight against drunken driving and underage drinking.

MOTHERS Against Drunk Driving has lowered Hawaii's three-year grade from its previous rating, but the new ranking is subjective and highly questionable. In the past three years, 157 traffic deaths in Hawaii were alcohol-related, compared with 181 alcohol-related traffic deaths during the previous three years, according to MADD's figures. Since deaths caused by drinking and driving are the proverbial bottom line, we regard that as an improvement -- by a margin of 24 -- although MADD's grade for the state declined from a B- in 1999 to a flat C in the new ratings.

We hate to argue statistics, except where they represent lives. Alcohol-related traffic deaths in Hawaii totaled 66 in 1996, 59 in 1997, 56 in 1998, 43 in 1999, 54 in 2000 and 60 last year. The MADD grades are supposed to be based largely on the three-year totals -- 1996-98 and 1999-2001-- and on trends.

The numbers declined each year during the first period, as did overall traffic deaths, and increased during the next three years. MADD gave its lowest grade to Hawaii -- a D+ -- for its "fatality trends." These grades put some stock in the year-to-year percentage of traffic deaths that were alcohol-related. Hawaii's percentage rose slightly in 1997 and again in 1998, fell in 1999, declined further in 2000 and rose in 2001. That is not a trend.

Yvonne Nelson, MADD-Hawaii's president, is correct in seeing a trend within the last three years, in which alcohol-related traffic deaths increased each year. That is a troublesome trend, to be regarded separately from the jump in traffic fatalities from other causes which were even more dramatic, from 55 in 1999 to 67 in 2000 to 80 last year.

Hawaii's highest grades of A- were for the state's administrative measures and criminal sanctions, which are similar to those in most other states, and the support of DUI and underage drinking prevention measures by Governor Cayetano, the personification of temperance.

"When I look at this problem of drinking and the consequences," Cayetano remarked, "it would be nicer if we could wipe this thing out just by passing a law that eliminated the use of alcohol altogether." His more realistic suggestion is that companies quit targeting young people in their advertisements, trying to persuade them that drinking is socially desirable.


It’s premature for
alarm over school
dropout estimates


A think-tank's calculations put Hawaii's public high school graduate rate at 69 percent.

DISTURBING as they sound, a think tank's numbers on Hawaii's public school dropouts don't appear to take into account the transient nature of the state's student population and other factors. Because of this, the Manhattan Institute's report last week should be taken with several grains of salt.

The institute estimates that only 69 percent of students who entered ninth grade in Hawaii public schools in 1996 graduated with their class in 2000, the same as the national average. However, the state Department of Education estimates the dropout rate for the class of 2000 at between 12.5 percent and 18 percent. The confirmed dropout figure is 12.5 percent; the 18 percent includes students whose statuses are unknown.

The discrepancy between the institute's and the DOE's figures may be explained in part because the think tank's count may have missed those students who left Hawaii. The large military population in the islands -- about 14,500 public school students are military dependents -- certainly should have weighed in when the institute computed its figures. The institute also did not count those who received high school equivalency certificates, those who graduated behind their classes, later enrolled in private schools or switched to home schooling.

Although the institute's estimate should be noted, it may be better to wait until more comprehensive figures can be compiled. The DOE next month will begin calculating graduation rates in school-by-school reports as part of the state's compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Those figures should provide a more accurate accounting of the student dropout rate.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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