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Unlike Nation, Oklahoma Is Failing to Reduce Drunken-Driving Deaths

By Shaun Hittle
Oklahoma Watch


During most of the past two decades, the annual number of alcohol-related traffic deaths across the country has fallen by about 20 percent, to more than 11,500.

More stringent drunken driving laws, widespread public education campaigns and safer vehicles have all played a role in that sharp reduction.

In Oklahoma, however, it’s been a much different story. Despite having the same safer vehicles, increased educational efforts and tougher laws, the state saw a 10 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths between 1994 and 2012. The trend mystifies state public-safety officials.

In 2011, there were 249 such fatalities; last year, there were 261. Only six other states also saw increases over the 18-year period, according to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Gary Thomas, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, doesn’t mince words about the state’s relatively poor track record
in cutting alcohol-related traffic deaths.

“We’re bad,” he says. “We couldn’t get much worse.”

The picture is similar for overall traffic fatalities. Since 1994, road deaths in Oklahoma have hovered around 700 or 800 per year, or about two per day. The country as a whole has seen a 21 percent decline. Oklahoma’s fatality rate per 100 million vehicle-miles driven has dropped, particularly in recent years, but not as much as the nation’s. The state had the ninth highest rate of traffic deaths in 2011.

If just Oklahoma’s alcohol-related traffic-fatality rate had declined at the same pace as the nation’s since 1994, 47 fewer people would have died last year.

Unclear Reasons

Why Oklahoma is doing relatively poorly in reducing traffic deaths isn’t clear…

(Photo Credit: Newson6)

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  • T-Stew
    November 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    The statistics in this post are enlightening, but as a born and bred Oklahoma, I am sorry to say I am not surprised. While the issue is complicated, I think the rise in alcohol related driving deaths during this time period can be attributed to four growing trends: 1) Continuing lack of widespread and effective modes of public transport (and a basically non-existent cab industry); 2) EVERYONE who can afford a car in Oklahoma drives because of the lack of effective and available public and private transport- pretty much anywhere and everywhere, even to and from bars for a night of drinking (look at the list of the most gas-dependent cities in the U.S., it is enlightening); 3) A steady growth in entertainment options around the state, most being businesses that serve alcohol in some way (i.e. bars and restaurants); and 4) A public education system that, even in the 21st century, does basically nothing to instruct young drivers about the very real dangers related to drunk driving.

    I have an immense amount of pride in being an Oklahoman, but mostly because of the character of the people that live there. In terms of institutional and government initiatives to achieve basically anything progressive or that will actually work to fix the state’s many issues, I have much less faith.

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