PARKERSBURG - The number of impaired-driving fatalities was down 2.5 percent nationwide in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"Just based on accident report numbers we are seeing from law enforcement agencies, it appears the number of DUI fatalities is down here as well," said Toni Tiano, director for the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Highway Safety Program. The highway safety program provides public awareness, education and enforcement of public safety laws. The program headquartered here covers Wood, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt counties.
The state is still compiling numbers from 2011. But a look at the state's past alcohol-impaired driving fatalities lists 112 in 2010 compared to 115 the year before. In 2008 there were 126 and in 2007 the number was 138.
Alcohol-related crashes in West Virginia numbered 1,647 in 2010; 1,831 in 2009 and 2,770 in 2008.
The percentage of alcohol fatalities compared to the number of total fatalities in the state in 2010 was at 30 percent; 32 percent in 2009 and 34 percent in 2008.
In this region, there were 190 DUI arrests from October 2011 through September 2012 and 165 for the year before. These were through grant-funded overtime for special patrols/checkpoints.
Impaired Driving Prevention
* Nationally, the number of impaired-driving fatalities was down by 2.5 percent in 2011.
* Officials credit law enforcement crackdowns on DUI and growth of drug courts that address addiction and recidivism for the decrease.
* The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Highway Safety Program provides public awareness, education and enforcement of public safety laws. The program covers Wood, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane and Wirt counties.
Tiano credits the decrease in DUI-related fatalities, at least in part, to a more pro-active effort by police agencies.
"You see in the arrest reports, the number of DUI arrests is up," Toni said, noting the numbers show a more proactive rather than reactive effort to get offenders off the roads. Police agencies routinely do sobriety checkpoints that have netted potentially dangerous drivers.
"Last fall, during a sobriety checkpoint in Vienna, they made five DUI arrests, and we had a large number of DUI arrests over the Christmas holiday. Combined with a lot more media attention that buzzed driving is the same as drunk driving, the efforts are being made to get these people off the road before they kill themselves or someone else," Tiano said.
According to the National Center for Driving While Intoxicated Courts, the number of drug courts nationwide is now more than 600. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization is dedicated to educating and offering technical assistance to drug court professionals.
"There is simply no better way for a community to take a stand against drunk driving than to implement a DWI Court," said NCDC Senior Director David Wallace. "Reaching 600 DWI Courts nationwide sends a strong message that this country is ready for a new approach to stop repeat drunk driving, one that protects public safety, saves money and permanently changes the behavior of DWI offenders."
According to the NCDC, in 2009, those with a blood alcohol concentrations of 0.15 or higher or with a previous DWI conviction, were involved in 70 percent of all fatal alcohol-related crashes. Across the nation there remain more than two million impaired drivers with three or more DWI convictions and 400,000 with five or more.
A recent evaluation completed in Georgia found repeat drunken driving offenders participating in three DWI courts were up to 65 percent less likely to be rearrested for a new DWI offense than DWI offenders sentenced in a traditional format. A similar study in Michigan found DWI courts had better outcomes in nearly all comparisons with traditional sentencing.
Wood County has an adult and juvenile drug court. The adult court program provides substance abuse treatment, counseling to get at the heart of the addiction, clients are subject to random and frequent drug testing, home visits and may be monitored through home confinement. Minimum time on the program is a year. The clients are given probation at least a year after successful completion of the program.