As one of the biggest drinking holidays looms on New Year’s Eve, it is tempting to describe the traffic mayhem caused by excessive drinking as “sobering,” but using that word in its literal sense might seem to make light of a deadly issue.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures for highway deaths caused by drunken driving are just that. Compiled by Safewise.com, they show that the worst states per capita for drunken driving fatalities are Wyoming, South Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico and Alabama.
The states where per capita drunken driving fatalities are lowest are Massachusetts, Utah, Minnesota, New York and, at the bottom of the list, New Jersey.
(In the Washington, D.C., region, Maryland ranks 33rd per capita, Virginia is 37th, and the District is 45th. The Washington Regional Alcohol Program is providing free rides from 8 p.m. Dec. 31 to 4 a.m. New Year’s Day.)
With the National Safety Council projecting that there will be 438 roadway fatalities and 49,900 injuries over the extended New Year’s holiday weekend, the nonprofit group’s president, Deborah A.P. Hersman, says, “Prioritizing safety is the best way to welcome the new year.”
Hersman, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said 885 people died in traffic crashes involving a drunk driver in December 2017.
NHTSA numbers crunched by Safewise found that Wyoming replaced Montana as the worst per capita state for drunken driving fatalities. Montana dropped to the sixth worst state by that standard.
Wyoming, which ranked eighth in 2016, rose to the top of the list the following year. It was the only state among the top five that showed no decrease in the overall rate of drunken driving fatalities.
Safewise points out that of the states it ranked worst, only South Carolina requires jail time for first-time drunken driving offenders, and in that case it’s two days in jail.
“The majority of U.S. states require mandatory alcohol abuse assessment or treatment after a DUI conviction, but neither is required in four out of the five worst states for drunken driving deaths,” Safewise said in a statement. “Among the five states with the most drunken driving deaths, the average minimum fine for the first DUI conviction is $300, compared to $524 among the five states with the fewest drunken driving deaths.”