Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The number of women arrested for drunken driving in the United States has jumped almost 30 percent in the past decade, a dangerous trend that was all too evident last month when a wrong-way crash involving a woman in New York killed eight people.

The Transportation Department said the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs increased 28.8 percent between 1998 and 2007. The number of men arrested under the influence fell 7.5 percent during the same period.

Despite the trends, however, drunken-driving arrests remain dominated by men. In 1998, 676,911 men were arrested for being under the influence, compared with 626,371 arrests in 2007. More than 126,000 women were arrested for DUI in 1998, a number that increased 28.8 percent to 162,493 in 2007.

“If you’re over the limit, you’re under arrest. This is a matter of life and death,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.

Laura Dean-Mooney, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said it was unclear why there has been an increase in the number of women arrested for impaired driving. “There’s no hard data on that. What you’re hearing more is that women are under more pressure, they’re now perhaps the breadwinner because of the unemployment rate,” she said.

“We need to make sure women understand that if you’re a drinking driver, you’re just as likely as a male to hit or kill or injure someone or perhaps even kill yourself, as we saw in the horrible Taconic Parkway crash,” she said.

In New York’s Westchester County, Diane Schuler drove the wrong way for nearly two miles on the Taconic State Parkway before her minivan slammed into a sport utility vehicle and killed eight people. Mrs. Schuler, her 2-year-old daughter, three young nieces and three men in the SUV were killed. Mrs. Schuler’s 5-year-old son survived.

A smashed bottle of vodka was found in the wreckage of Mrs. Schuler’s minivan. An autopsy found she had a 0.19 blood-alcohol reading at the time of the crash, well above the legal limit of 0.08, and had smoked marijuana no more than an hour before the wreck.

About 2,000 alcohol-related deaths involve women every year.

The government was kicking off its anti-drunken-driving enforcement campaign, which targets drivers leading up to the Labor Day holiday weekend in early September. The enforcement campaign runs from Aug. 21 through the Labor Day weekend ending Sept. 7 and involves 11,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies around the country.

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