Wichita A federal study showing Kansas had the second-highest increase in alcohol-related traffic accidents in the nation last year reveals that the state’s drunken driving system needs overhauling, advocates say.
A report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths in Kansas rose 36.1 percent from 2007 to 2008.
The increase comes even as the number of overall highway deaths in Kansas dropped to an all-time low, according to state accident records.
Those familiar with the system weren’t surprised by the numbers.
“I think its just a result of the fact that our DUI system is broken,” said Mary Ann Khoury, head of the DUI Victim Center of Kansas. “If something that’s broken never gets fixed, it just gets worse, and that’s probably what we’re seeing.”
Sedgwick County District Judge Phil Journey, who studied the issue as a defense lawyer and a state senator, said the report should help efforts to overhaul state laws regarding driving under the influence.
“It’s something that should get everybody’s attention.”
The federal report found that from 2007 to 2008, the fatality rate in the United States declined from 1.36 to 1.25 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. The rate of alcohol-impaired fatalities dropped from 0.43 to 0.40 per 100 million miles traveled.
In Kansas, the report said, the overall fatality rate dropped from 1.38 to 1.30 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. But the number of alcohol-related deaths rose from 0.36 to 0.49 per 100 million miles traveled.
Kansas’ 36.1 percent increase was second only to a 40 percent jump in New Hampshire.
Kansas ranked 27th in the overall fatality rate and 16th in the alcohol-related fatality rate. While alcohol-related traffic deaths rose in six states in 2008, the rates declined in 40 states.
Pete Bodyk, chief of the Kansas Department of Transportation’s traffic safety bureau, said it was possible that economic struggles led to more alcohol consumption and impaired driving. But he noted that the state had its lowest number of fatalities in 2008 since recordkeeping started in the late 1940s.
The state recorded 385 traffic deaths in 2008, down 7 percent from 2007 and down 29 percent from 1999.
Bodyk and Khoury are both members of the Kansas DUI Commission, which is expected to issue an interim report on the state’s driving laws to the 2010 Kansas Legislature and make final recommendations the next year.