Editorial -- A new strategy is needed to make a serious dent in binge drinking, DUIs
Given our minimal amount of success in seriously reducing the level of binge drinking and driving under the influence in North Dakota, the first thing we need to do as a state is develop a realistic strategy that can make a significant positive d...
Given our minimal amount of success in seriously reducing the level of binge drinking and driving under the influence in North Dakota, the first thing we need to do as a state is develop a realistic strategy that can make a significant positive difference regarding these two concerns.
The topic of the state's binge drinking status came to the forefront this week when the state coordinator for the North Dakota chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions floated an idea for an initiated measure. Lee Erickson wants to raise the state's wholesale tax on beer by 8 cents per gallon to raise about $1.3 million a year to fund prevention programs.
First, we want to state binge drinking and associated issues are not limited to beer, but encompass all alcohol-based beverages. Therefore, taxing just the beer industry to raise funds for prevention efforts is not fair.
The success of our current overall alcohol-prevention strategy in the state, however, can be reflected in crash data generated by the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
The percentage of alcohol-related fatalities has seen a significant drop in only one year during the past decade. That occurred in 2004, when the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities slipped to 38 percent. Otherwise, that percentage has hovered in the mid to upper 40s and in 2003 reached 50.5 percent.
In 2005, 547 crashes involved alcohol, of which 259 resulted in injury. The split between urban and rural crashes was almost even, while more people were injured on rural roads (159) than urban (103).
The number of injury crashes due to alcohol followed only those where drivers were cited for care required (473) and failed to yield (338). Alcohol-related crashes also are the only 2005 category to reach double-digits for fatalities (10), all of which occurred on rural roads.
The state DOT statistics also report the baseline for alcohol-related fatalities continues to creep upward as it sat just above 50 per year for 2005. At the same time, alcohol-related fatalities as a proportion of all fatalities have crept downward.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol Dickinson District Office reported Friday there have been 13 fatal accidents so far this year in the state, with a total of 17 fatalities. Six of the 17 fatalities, or 35 percent, resulted from accidents involving alcohol.
This most recent data was included in a press release announcing a sobriety checkpoint on Saturday, April 21, from 8 p.m. to midnight in Stark County. The checkpoint is to involve the Highway Patrol in conjunction with the Stark County Sheriff's Department and the Dickinson Police Department to coincide with "Alcohol Awareness Month" during April.
This overall DOT data again reflects the need for a more aggressive approach if we are to have any hope of seriously turning the corner on alcohol-related concerns within our population. But given the graphic nature of the numerous images and words which saturate our lives each day, it now takes a lot to generate a "shock factor" which can potentially produce a change in our existence.
Given the conservative nature of our state, we have been hesitant to identify and incorporate the needed shock value that's necessary to produce positive change in such issues as binge drinking and driving under the influence. The statistical data for our state would indicate, however, there is probably no better time than now to get serious.
We would suggest the state DOT join forces with the state Department of Health to create the framework for a new prevention strategy that can get the job done. After this framework is created, it then would be appropriate to address funding needs and sources. The funding should then be allocated to whichever of these two state departments is to take the lead role in the new prevention effort.
Organizations such as SADD, MADD and others interested in these topics can then use their programs and resources to supplement and localize the state effort.
We applaud Erickson and his group for continuing to bring us back to the topic of binge drinking and other destructive alcohol-related activities in our state. We encourage his organization and others to communicate their thoughts to state officials about what a realistic, effective and successful prevention program might include.
By joining forces, we generate the best opportunity to create the change that is needed.