Kansas City, Mo. Kansas had the second-highest jump in the number of drunken-driving fatalities in the nation in 2010, a year in which overall alcohol-related fatalities fell, according to federal data.
Statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 168 people died in such crashes on Kansas roads in 2010, the most recent year statistics are available. That’s 45 more than were killed in 2009.
The Kansas City Star reported nearly four in 10 highway deaths in Kansas were related to alcohol, according to the federal data.
“That statistic is stunningly bad,” said Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton, a Leawood Republican.
Kansas trailed only New York, which saw its number of drunken-driving deaths rise by 46 in 2010. In Missouri, there were 44 fewer drunken-driving fatalities than in 2009, which is more in line with a national trend in which 32 states saw declines.
Overall, drunken-driving deaths were down about 5 percent nationally in 2010 compared with the previous year.
Kansas lawmakers have been struggling with ways to toughen laws to deal with repeat drunken drivers. In 2009, a state report characterized Kansas’ system for dealing with repeated offenders as dysfunctional.
The report found that people drive drunk repeatedly in Kansas without risk of serious punishment, and that it can be hard to track repeat violators because drunken-driving arrests or convictions are sometimes not reported, or lost or discarded.
Colloton has teamed up with state Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican, to find ways to fix the system. Because of their efforts, the Legislature passed a law requiring first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlocks placed on their vehicles, making Kansas one of 14 states that make the devices mandatory for all drunken-driving offenders.
The two also helped secure funding for a central records repository where drunken-driving convictions can be tracked statewide.
That change wouldn’t have affected the 2010 numbers, but Owens said the 2010 statistics illustrate the need for the changes made this year.
Research indicates the ignition interlocks, which require a driver to blow into a breath-test device connected to the vehicle’s ignition system, can reduce recidivism by 67 percent.
A New Mexico study found a 32 percent decline in alcohol-related injury crashes from 2002 to 2006, a period in which interlocks were installed for 35 percent of all arrested offenders.