Sober Behind the Wheel

The US has dipped from a C to a C- grade in keeping drunk drivers off the nation's highways. A report by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) gives California the highest ranking, (B-), while Montana is the only state it gives an F. Indeed, no state received an A.

Behind these grades lies the sad fact that the number of people killed in alcohol-related accidents has risen slightly again after holding steady for a number of years. Drunken driving accounted for 41 percent of all traffic deaths in 2001.

Many states, including Massachusetts, Alaska, the Dakotas, and Rhode Island, received Ds. The scores were based, among other things, on individual states' alcohol-related fatality trends, drunken driving laws, and enforcement and prevention programs.

Montana and 17 other states have been complacent in not adopting the tougher federal standard of .08 percent as the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers. More states also need to set up sobriety check-points on highways, and impose tougher penalties for drivers who refuse to take blood-alcohol tests.

Teens are responsible for 13 percent of alcohol-related crashes, even though they comprise just 6.9 percent of all drivers. That worrisome fact recently helped compel seven states, including California, to "phase in" the licensing of teenage drivers, such as limiting the number of passengers in cars with teens and the time of day teens can drive. These responsible moves are showing encouraging results in those states.

Other states should follow these examples, and redouble their efforts to get drunken drivers off the road.

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