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MADD Takes Aim at 'Higher-Risk Drivers'

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 29, 1999 (Washington) -- While most Y2K preparations are focused on computer failure, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is deeply concerned about a particular kind of human error -- driving under the influence. In fact, this national organization representing victims of drunken drivers is taking aim at repeat offenders whom MADD says pose the greatest threat. The new program was launched at an emotional news conference here Wednesday as MADD officials urged government and industry leaders to show their support.

"Billions of dollars are being spent to protect us from Y2K crashes, but the Y2K crash most likely to kill this New Year's Eve is the one that will be caused by a drunk driver," says Karolyn Nunnallee, MADD's national president, whose 10-year-old daughter was killed by a drunken driver in 1988.

Even though alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped nearly 40% in the last two decades, the death toll from these preventable tragedies is still around 16,000 annually. "The fact is, nearly one-third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders, and as many as one-third of drivers involved in alcohol-related fatal crashes have a prior drunk driving conviction," says Nunnallee.

Now in its 20th year, MADD has come up with a multifaceted plan to crack down on offenders, Nunnallee says, such as someone with two DUIs in five years or an individual arrested with a very high blood alcohol level. The get-tough approach calls for one-year license suspension, jail time, vehicle impoundment, and the use of an interlock device to make sure a person is sober before starting one's car during probation. MADD also wants to beef up the penalty for refusing to take the blood-alcohol test to a two-year license suspension.

"This is what we will be advocating in each state capital in year 2000 and beyond," says Nunnallee. Another key goal will be to get all states to adopt .08 as the maximum amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. "Nearly one-quarter of the drivers involved each year in alcohol-related traffic deaths have [blood-alcohol] levels below .10. That translates into 3,500 deaths per year," says Millie Webb, MADD president-elect.

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia consider a person intoxicated at .08, but MADD officials say the alcohol and hospitality industry are opposed to the tougher requirement and have successfully lobbied against it.

"The alcohol industry has been saying that we need to go after these hard-core drinking drivers. Well, put your money where your mouth is. ... I find it very hard to believe that those are the ones that the alcohol industry truly wants to stop, because they're the ones that consume most of their product," says Nunnallee.

Jeff Becker, the president of the Beer Institute, acknowledges general opposition to the .08 requirement but says it's an issue not of profit, but of what's likely to work. "The hard-core repeat offender is where you've got to make the most amount of progress, because ... they're the ones not only killing themselves, but other people, for the most part," Becker tells WebMD.

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