Ky. sees seventh highest year-to-year increase of alcohol-related deadly crashes in the nation

Drunk Driving
Drunk Driving(MGN)
Published: Mar. 7, 2022 at 10:32 PM CST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows 2020 was the deadliest year for alcohol-related crashes in over a decade. More than 11,000 people died in those crashes. It is the highest rate since 2008.

Compared nationally, Kentucky ranked seventh for year-to-year increases from 2019 to 2020.

Advocates against drunk driving call the report disheartening, as more people continue to lose their lives.

“It is one of the few things that we can say is 100 percent preventable,” said Alex Otte, the national president for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “It never had to happen.”

Otte says she’s not surprised that numbers are up, but was by how much they increased, especially in her home state of Kentucky.

“I knew that we had a problem here that’s worse than other places. I’ve always known that, but it’s disappointing. Especially to see such a big increase when we’re working so hard to bring an end to it.”

In 2020, Kentucky recorded a 31.8 percent increase in drunk driving-related fatalities with 199. In 2019, the number was 151. The national average was up 14.3 percent.

Fatalities from crashes involving speed were also up in Kentucky from 114 in 2019, to 162 in 2020.

“So many things can be done to combat drunk driving, it comes down to personal responsibility,” said Otte. “I know that no matter how much I kick and scream, no matter what laws I change, there’s always gonna be people who make this deadly choice, and they just have to take responsibility for their actions.”

It’s a personal mission for Otte, who lost her leg in a DUI boating crash 11 years ago.

“It is impossible to explain the devastation and the trauma that comes with realizing it’s still happening to other people. Every time you see it on the news, every time you’re scrolling Facebook and you see that it happened again, all of the trauma from 11 years ago comes back.”

She says MADD is working constantly to strengthen education and accountability for all drivers, and students who are not yet behind the wheel.

“There’s so much more we could be doing. I remember that four-hour graduating licensing course that you take at the library when they show one video of a crash. I’m sitting there with one leg, like hold up. This is not all that you need to know. You need to know this hurts people, and it hurts a lot of people.”

Even though there was an 11 percent decrease in miles traveled in 2020 because of the pandemic, fatality rates still soared. Otte says the pandemic may have been a factor, especially because of issues with isolation and mental health, but she doesn’t blame it entirely. Otte says it still comes down to people making the choice to drink and drive.

When comparing Kentucky to bordering states, West Virginia had the highest year-to-year increase in alcohol-related fatal crashes with 35.7 percent. Tennessee had the lowest with 12.8 percent.

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