Kansas has a terrible "top 10" rating where alcohol-related deaths are concerned.
With the Memorial Day and July 4 holidays and summer vacation travel due to begin soon, we hope the state's high ranking for alcohol-related deaths will be a sobering reminder for Kansas drivers.
Our state ranks 10th in the nation for alcohol-related deaths per miles driven, according to the latest study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Kansas moved up from No. 29 in 1998 when there were 84 alcohol-related traffic fatalities. It recorded 131 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in 2002 to move up to No. 10, and the total so far in 2004 continues to be alarming.
In a five-year study that ran up to 2002, Kansas had the second-greatest increase in such deaths, behind only South Carolina.
"Such numbers are very disturbing. We've got a long way to go when it comes to removing the impaired driver from our state's roads," says Lt. John Eichkorn, spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol's safety programs.
Eichkorn says the biggest problem is repeat offenders, "people who are constantly back in the system." He adds, "For that dependent person who, for whatever reason, can't stop drinking, it's very difficult for law enforcement. We have to be as vigilant as possible in looking for and removing that impaired driver as quickly as possible."
The Kansas Legislature has empowered law enforcement to immobilize or impound drunken drivers' vehicles. But that is not fail-safe because friends let friends borrow cars and there is no way patrol people can know who is and is not a serious risk until something bad has happened. Deaths often are connected to drivers with six or more offenses.
Further, state funding is such that there have been personnel cuts in the highway patrol as well as local law enforcement agencies. That further reduces the chances of impaired drivers being caught before they do harm.
Thus, drivers in Kansas clearly have to be at their most defensive, particularly during holiday and peak travel times when congestion, impatience and excessive speed heighten the prospects for danger.
The undesirable Kansas status regarding alcohol-related deaths cannot be brushed off as some meaningless statistic. The human quotient is too vital. Even if you are a law-abiding driver, the next wreck involving an impaired motorist could be deadly for you or someone you love.