If you find it discouraging that Kansas had the nation's second-largest increase in drunken-driving fatalities in 2010, as such deaths declined 5 percent nationally, think of how the survivors must feel. Most important, think before taking the wheel while drunk.
Nearly 4 in 10 driving deaths in Kansas that year were related to alcohol 168 total, which was 45 more than the year before. As state Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, told the Kansas City Star: "That statistic is stunningly bad." Kansas' rate of alcohol-related fatalities was 40 percent higher than the national average in 2010, and the state's rate had increased more than 50 percent between 2005 and 2009.
In 2010, 15 of Wichita's 29 traffic fatalities were alcohol-related and three members of a Wichita family were killed by a drunken driver going the wrong way on the turnpike. If there is any consolation in the 2010 statistics, it's that they don't reflect some sweeping DUI legislation passed by the 2011 Legislature and in effect since July.
The legislation emerged from a two-year study by a state DUI commission, which was formed after a four-time drunken driver killed a 4-year-old and her mother outside a Wichita elementary school in 2008. The new legislation sets up a central repository for law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to use to track DUI offenses across jurisdictions. It also imposes higher fines and other penalties, including a minimum $750 fine (up from $500) for a first offense and, after a 30-day license suspension, required use of an ignition-locking device in order to drive for at least six months.
As Colloton said last May, when the bill passed the House 121-0 and the Senate 39-0, "It's a good law that will save lives."For example, research has found that ignition interlocks, previously used only in Kansas for repeat offenders, can reduce recidivism 67 percent. Some argue the 2011 legislation didn't go far enough, though, especially in failing to make it a crime in Kansas to refuse to submit to an alcohol or drug test. The repository won't account for any DUIs committed before July 1, 2001. And the law needs to be supported with sufficient state dollars, to realize its promises of more substance-abuse treatment and greater supervision of repeat offenders.
But because the state can't outlaw addiction or stupidity a Hutchinson man apologized for the latter Friday as he got a year in jail for his ninth DUI conviction the Legislature has only so much power to deter drunken driving. If ever there were an issue in which Kansas could use a surge of personal responsibility to rival its love of liberty, this is it.