Drunken driving takes human and financial toll

By Marcus Pickett

Recent statistics for drunken driving deaths are a mixed bag of good and bad news. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 11,773 people were killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired driving in 2008, down 10 percent from 2007. Unfortunately, the traffic safety agency attributes this decline not to an increased awareness, but to a historically low number of miles logged by U.S. drivers that year.
As the economy rebounds, these numbers are expected to go back up. While public campaigns and tougher laws and enforcement policies led to a decline in drunken driving deaths from the early 1980s to the mid-'90s, progress has stalled, and a typical year sees roughly 13,000 such deaths.

Other costs for drunken driving

It's no secret that a drunken driving arrests and convictions carry enormous financial costs. Bail, towing, legal fees, court costs, fines, evaluation, education, treatment and license reinstatement are likely to cost several thousand dollars on their own. The license reinstatement surcharge for a first-time DWI in Texas, for example, amounts to $3,000 ($1,000 paid annually for three years).
Higher auto insurance premiums, however, can carry the stiffest financial penalties over the long term. Exact costs vary from driver to driver and state to state, but they're nearly always painful to the pocketbook.
According to the Illinois DUI Fact Book, high-risk auto insurance associated with a DUI costs $4,500 over the first three years alone. The costs can be even higher for teen drivers. According to StopTeenDUI.com (a website affiliated with California's Administrative Office of the Courts), the average increase in auto insurance for a teen's first DUI is $40,000 over 13 years.

Drunken driving deaths during the holidays

Drunken driving deaths spike during the holiday season. The exact rates and causes of this spike, however, are not well-known. New Year's Eve seems to be a likely culprit for the deadliest holiday for drunken driving. News outlets, meanwhile, like to report that more drunken driving deaths occur on Thanksgiving than on any other holiday.
Yet, similar to the annual numbers for drunken driving deaths, this often-quoted statistic is more about the total number of drivers on the road than any direct connection between turkey and driving drunk.

In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration drunken driving during Thanksgiving generally ranks near the bottom of the major holidays as a percentage of fatal car crashes. Meanwhile, the Fourth of July, New Year's Day and Christmas all have higher percentages of drunken driving deaths. Typically, as people travel to various parties, no holiday is immune from a higher incidence of drunken driving.

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