Alcohol deaths rise on roads

Drunken-driving fatalities up from 11 to 25 last year

Police say no cause for alarm

Worst period for incidents in the county since 1993

Anne Arundel

September 19, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

The number of deaths caused by crashes involving alcohol climbed drastically last year in Anne Arundel County, making it the county's worst year for fatal drunken-driving crashes since 1993, according to recently released state figures.

Anne Arundel County recorded 25 alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year, up from 11 the year before, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

"It's a very frightening thing," said Leslie Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Central Maryland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "I would say that people who drive on our roads should be very, very concerned."

Although the number more than doubled in a 12-month span, state officials say the county has no more of a problem with drunken driving than other Maryland jurisdictions.

"Just because [the number of fatalities] is up one year doesn't mean that it won't be down again," said State Highway Administration spokesman David Buck, pointing out seesawing statistics in a number of counties.

Prince George's County recorded 29 alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year, a drop from 35 the year before but still the most in the state. Over the previous decade, the number had risen as high as 49 and dropped to as low as 25.

Baltimore County was second in alcohol-related traffic fatalities last year, with 27; Anne Arundel was third. Among other Baltimore-area jurisdictions, Baltimore City had 11, Carroll County had four, Harford County had three and Howard County had two.

According to the state figures, seven of the 24 Maryland jurisdictions had increases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, though no others were in the Baltimore area.

Buck said one year of unusual numbers, high or low, does not constitute a trend. He said state officials are most concerned about rural counties where rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities are much higher than in congested areas.

He pointed to figures showing that Garrett County had the highest fatality rate last year, 2.67 per 100 million vehicles miles traveled. Anne Arundel had a rate of 1.06.

Lt. William R. Krampf of the Anne Arundel County police agreed that the rising number of fatalities in the county, although unfortunate, is not cause for alarm.

"As far as I'm concerned ... [the number] is pretty average," said Krampf, who heads the department's traffic safety section.

According to the State Highway Administration, Arundel has averaged 20 alcohol-related fatalities a year since 1992. The most was 27 in 1993, and the fewest was 11 in 2002.

Krampf said police have addressed the issue in the past by targeting what he called the region's "problem areas," where a number of fatal crashes have occurred.

The department also conducts regular sobriety checkpoints and driver education initiatives, some of which are funded in part by the State Highway Administration.

As of Thursday, the county had recorded 28 traffic fatalities this year.

Krampf was not certain how many were alcohol-related, but he said he thinks the year-end figure will be lower than last year's.

Krampf said drunken-driving prevention programs have had an impact but that he thinks the public does not view drunken driving as a serious problem.

"Drinking alcohol is legal. And ... until you get groups of people to understand that they need to have designated drivers, those tragedies will occur," Krampf said. "You're going to have people who think, `This is not going to happen to me.'"

Buck agreed that a cultural shift is needed to further reduce the death toll and added that education and outreach initiatives will help to make the change over many years.

"Eventually," Buck said, "it will become a change that is part of [the public's] values, [but] it takes a lot of time to get these things through to people."

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