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Number of people killed by drunk drivers increases in D.C. region, even as number of crashes decreases, report says

The region also averages a DUI arrest every 38 minutes.

Traffic along 13th Street NW in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Drugs or alcohol are cited as the leading cause of one-third of all traffic deaths in the Washington region, and the number appears to be growing, according to a new report.

Of the region’s 271 roadway fatalities in 2017 — the most recent data available — 86, or about 32 percent, were related to drugs and/or alcohol, according to the report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP). That number was up from 59 fatalities the previous year.

Some jurisdictions, including Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, saw their numbers of alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities double during that period. In Prince George’s, the number rose to 34, up from 17 in 2016, and the county continued to lead the region in both alcohol-related and overall traffic fatalities, according to the data. Most recently, three children were killed Dec. 30 when a speeding truck driven by a suspected drunken driver slammed into the car in which they were traveling in southern Prince George’s. The driver of the truck, who authorities say had a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, was charged with vehicular manslaughter.

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The number of alcohol-related fatalities increased even as the region recorded fewer collisions involving drunk drivers. Traffic crashes attributed to alcohol and/or drugs decreased nearly 2.6 percent — to 4,324 in 2017 from 4,438 in 2016, according to the annual “How Safe are Our Roads?” report.

Traffic injuries resulting from alcohol or drug-related crashes also decreased — by more than 7 percent.

That same year police made 13,564 alcohol-related traffic arrests — an average of one person every 38 minutes, according to the report, which uses data gathered by the Council of Governments from the District and the Washington suburbs in Maryland and Virginia. The number of arrests was down 8 percent from 2016, when 14,757 arrests were made. The data shows a decrease in the number of arrests each year since 2013, when authorities made more than 17,200 alcohol-related traffic arrests.

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“The fact that the number of drunken driving deaths increased in Greater Washington in 2017 and that in the same year, the region averaged a DUI arrest every 38 minutes demonstrates that there is still more work to do on the fight against drunken driving,” said WRAP President Kurt Erickson.

Nationwide, 10,874 people were killed in drunken-driving crashes in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number was down about 1.1 percent from the previous year, when 10,996 people were killed. According to NHTSA, about 29 percent of the roadway fatalities nationwide were reported as alcohol-related.