Kansas, Rhode Island collide with overall U.S. decrease in DUI deaths
Drunken driving deaths are on the decline in every state — except for Kansas and Rhode Island. These two states have seen a rise in the number of DUI-related deaths from 2007 through 2009.
What’s being done to stem DUI deaths in these two states? And if you have a clean driving record and happen to live in Kansas or Rhode Island, should you be worried that your auto insurance rates will go up?
The answer to the first question: Efforts are under way in both states to firm up their anti-drunken-driving initiatives.
As for the second question, if you’ve got a great driving history and live in Kansas or Rhode Island, you need not worry about your auto insurance rates rising. You should, however, be on the lookout for drunken drivers. And if you do have a drunken driving conviction, your auto insurance rates are guaranteed to soar.
Experts are examining why Kansas and Rhode Island — which are roughly 1,400 miles apart — are bucking the national trend of decreasing DUI-related deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drunken driving deaths across the country dropped 7 percent from 2007 to 2008 and another 7 percent from 2008 to 2009.
|Forty percent of traffic deaths in Kansas are alcohol-related.|
Meanwhile, Kansas saw a 12 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths from 2008 to 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. During the same period, Rhode Island experienced a 48 percent jump.
Unfortunately, those increases can’t be written off as one-time blips. From 2007 to 2008, the number of drunken driving deaths climbed 33 percent in Kansas and 14 percent in Rhode Island, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In 2009, drunken driving was attributed to 145 Kansas traffic deaths and 34 Rhode Island traffic deaths. Four of every 10 traffic deaths in Kansas and Rhode Island are alcohol-related.
To see how your state fares on the MADD scorecard, visit www.madd.org/drunk-driving/campaign/state-ranking.
Kansas, Rhode Island seek solutions
Federal officials cite education, stiffer penalties and stepped-up law enforcement efforts as some of the reasons for the nationwide reduction in drunken driving deaths. So why aren’t those measures working in Kansas and Rhode Island?
The answer is hard to pinpoint. But it’s clear that anti-drunken-driving campaigns aren’t getting through to enough residents of both states.
Pete Bodyk, traffic safety manager for the Kansas Department of Transportation, says officials in the Sunflower State — prosecutors, police officers, legislators and others — are working toward a solution. The Midwestern state has about 2.8 million residents.
In 2008, state leaders established the Kansas Substance Abuse Policy Board to study, among other things, drunken driving. The board, commonly referred to as the Kansas DUI Commission, has recommended an overhaul of the state’s drunken driving laws. The suggestions — to be folded into legislation in 2011 — include tougher penalties for first-time drunken drivers and better ways of compiling data on drunken driving.
In Kansas, a first-time or second-time DUI is a misdemeanor; a third-time DUI is a felony.
|Rhode Island is one of 11 states without sobriety checkpoints.|
“While some may not have gotten the message that drunk driving isn’t tolerated, we are working to make sure that they do,” Bodyk says.
Rhode Island is struggling with a similar problem. The Ocean State has about 1 million residents.
Gabrielle Abbate, state executive director of MADD in Rhode Island, says she thinks her state needs more laws aimed at decreasing drunken driving and improving highway safety. One such change, she says, could be to require that mandatory ignition interlock systems be installed in the cars of convicted drunken drivers.
Rhode Island state lawmakers failed to act on ignition interlock legislation in 2009 and 2010. A number of states mandate the installation of such systems after a drunken driving conviction. A motorist who is ordered to install such a system must blow into a device connected to a car’s ignition. If a driver’s blood alcohol level is above the legal limit, his car won’t start.
Abbate also cites a Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling that declared sobriety checkpoints were unconstitutional. “We are one of only 11 states without the ability to do random stops,” she says.
In Rhode Island, non-injury DUIs are misdemeanors, while DUIs involving serious injuries are felonies.
The costs of DUI
No matter whether you’re in Kansas, Rhode Island or another state, the costs of a DUI conviction can be staggering.
In DUI cases, fines, bail, court costs, towing expenses and legal fees can easily add up to thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, your auto insurance rates certainly will increase, depending on a variety of factors, including your age, driving history and place of residence. One estimate pegs the average rate bump at 25 percent to 35 percent. Depending on your insurer and the number of repeat convictions, your auto insurance policy even may be canceled.
On top of that, you could be liable for thousands or perhaps millions of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses if a DUI victim successfully sues in you court.
But there’s good news for safe drivers in Kansas, Rhode Island and elsewhere. Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, says drivers in states with major DUI problems typically won’t feel the financial pain of drunken driving — only those convicted are hit with higher rates.