This month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released it’s 2016 traffic fatality data. In 2016, 10,497 people were killed in drunk driving crashes, up 1.7% from 10,265 in 2015.

Like drunk driving deaths, fatalities caused by distracted driving are heartbreaking and 100 percent preventable. It is important to note that distracted driving deaths decreased by 2.2 percent according to the NHTSA report, down from 3,526 in 2015 to 3,440 in 2016.

Sadly, drunk driving remains the biggest killer on our roads and the number of lives claimed every year is going up. In fact, drunk driving fatalities nationwide have increased for the second year in a row.

Alcohol impaired driving fatalities over last five years as of 2017

MADD National President, Colleen Sheehey-Church, called it a crisis, saying, “We cannot stand by while more families are left to pick up the pieces after these tragedies.” MADD has asked Congress to “hold a hearing to examine the causes of increasing highway deaths and what countermeasures, both short-term and long-term, should be used in order to reverse this trend.”

While the overall numbers are alarming, there is some good news in Tennessee. Tennessee was one of 13 states and territories that actually saw a decrease in the number of drunk driving deaths.  In 2016, there were 223 traffic fatalities due to alcohol impairment which was 21% of the total
number of traffic related fatalities in Tennessee. That is down from 2015 when there were 251 alcohol impaired fatalities which was 26% of the total number of traffic related fatalities in Tennessee. This decrease of 28 alcohol impaired fatalities represents a reduction of 11.2%.

Tennessee is proud of the work of state law enforcement agencies, government agencies, and our community partners who all work so hard to enforce traffic laws, educate the public about the dangers of drunk driving, and support high visibility law enforcement efforts. But there is
obviously more to do! Until the number is zero, there will be more to do.

In addition, the NHTSA report is limited to traffic fatalities due to impaired driving with alcohol impairment only and does not include drug impairment data. Comparable drug impairment data is generally more difficult to obtain for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones is that, unlike alcohol, where there is a federal standard that states drivers with a .08 blood alcohol level or above are considered legally intoxicated, there is no national standard for what determines impairment with drugs. Because of this, there is much variation in how and when drug testing is done among states in traffic fatality crashes, making comparable data collection difficult, if not impossible.

That being said, there is data that helps us understand the growing problem of drug impaired driving in our country. The national Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report in 2017 that said in 2015, 43% of drivers in fatal crashes had drugs in their system, as compared to 37% who were over .08 for alcohol. In 2005, only 28% of drivers tested positive for drugs after dying in a crash. So in ten years, the number had grown from 28% to 43%, alarming to say the least.

MADD continues to focus on our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving, launched in 2006. The Campaign supports high-visibility law enforcement, such as sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, state laws requiring ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, development of
advanced vehicle technology and public support for these initiatives. Drunk driving deaths have decreased by 22 percent since the Campaign launched, but the past two years of increases shows that more must be done.

MADD also will continue to fight drugged driving by working with our partners for solutions to this increasing problem and by working to educate the public about the dangers of driving impaired by any substance. You can help by sharing our blogs and website information, subscribing to our monthly eNewsletter, and following @MADDTennessee on Facebook so you can like and share our posts which helps increase our reach and the number of people who hear our message.

Thank you for your continued support! Together, we can make a difference!