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Does North Carolina have a drunken driving problem?

Just as in the 49 other states, drivers who choose to drink and get behind the wheel place themselves and others on the road with them at an enormous risk of injury or death from an alcohol-related crash.

Even though statistics are dropping, approximately a third of all highway deaths in America involve someone who chose to drink and drive. In our state alone, in the years spanning 2003 to 2012, 4,102 people lost their lives in accidents with drunk drivers.

In 2012, the age group with the highest rate of deaths per 100,000 was 21 to 34, with an even higher rate of deaths than the national average -- 8 compared to 6.7 percent. Yet according to statistics provided by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 2012, the percentage of adults reporting that they drove after drinking in a 30-day period was only 1.4 percent compared to the national rate of 1.9 percent.

Certain strategies appear to be more effective at reducing and preventing drunken driving accidents. They receive the stamp of approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after being reviewed by the agency. They include the following:

-- Sobriety checkpoints. These are legal in North Carolina and permit police to briefly detain drivers at specified and visible locations to check for signs of impairment in some or all drivers. Those suspected of driving while intoxicated may be given further testing.

-- Implementing "zero tolerance" laws that make it illegal for those under 21 to consume any alcohol and drive and lowering the nationwide limit of allowable blood alcohol content for adults to .08 percent.

-- Ignition interlocks installed in vehicles to prevent them from being driven by those with alcohol on their breath. The threshold is usually .02 percent, and the devices are court-ordered to prevent drunk driving recidivism.

-- Campaigns that use mass media to spread the message about the dangers inherent in drunk driving.

-- Revoking or suspending the licenses of drivers who refuse blood alcohol tests.

-- Task forces and coalitions that focus on combining multiple policies and programs to defeat drunk driving.

If you suffer injuries in a wreck with a drunk driver, you may wish to pursue a civil claim through the courts.

Source: Centers for Disease Control, "Sobering Facts: Drunk Driving in NORTH CAROLINA," accessed March. 27, 2015

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