RICHMOND (AP) Seven states have lower rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths than Virginia, according to a study released this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
About 36 percent of the state’s fatal wrecks in 2001 involved alcohol, down from 39 percent in 2000 and 56 percent in 1982, the year the federal administration started keeping statistics.
Nationwide, the percentage has dropped to 41 percent from 60 percent in 1982.
Col. Gerald B. Massengill, superintendent of the Virginia State Police, attributes the commonwealth’s drop to a combination of education and law enforcement.
“We have some tough alcohol-related statutes in Virginia that serve us well,” Col. Massengill said. “We have made some great strides in addressing this problem.”
State troopers have arrested 260 persons at checkpoints since July, Col. Massengill said.
The federal study showed that 0.46 alcohol-related fatalities occurred in Virginia in 2001 for every 100 million miles driven.
Vermont had the lowest rate, at 0.36 deaths per 100 million miles driven. New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Utah, Massachusetts and Maine also had lower rates than Virginia. South Carolina had the highest rate: Drivers there are three times more likely to die in alcohol-related traffic accidents than those in Vermont or New York.
David Kelly, a spokesman for Virginia’s Mothers Against Drunk Driving, says his group is pleased that the fatality rate is falling, but that factors keeping it low could include congestion that slows traffic and the proximity of most areas of the state to hospital trauma centers.
“We also have to look at raw numbers. How many people are dying on the roads?” Mr. Kelly said.
In 2001, 340 out of 935 highway fatalities in Virginia involved alcohol , 20 fewer than the year before and 200 fewer than in 1990.
“Education is important, but we’re to the point where almost everyone knows they shouldn’t drink and drive,” Mr. Kelly said. “The people who are still doing it are choosing to do it. The most effective way to deal with them is to arrest them.”