Crash deaths involving impaired drivers jumped significantly across the U.S. during the pandemic, and Terrebonne and Lafourche are no exception, a new federal report shows.
Alcohol-related crash deaths increased nationally by 14% from 2019 to 2020 even though there were fewer cars on the roads, according to the report, released Wednesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Though traffic miles fell by 11%, the 11,654 people killed in alcohol-related crashes are the most since 2008. Overall, crashes killed 38,824 people from 2019 to 2020, more than any year since 2007.
Alcohol-impaired driving deaths also spiked in Louisiana by 8.9% between 2019 and 2020, the agency says.
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State Police Troop C, which covers Lafourche, Terrebonne and Assumption parishes and the west banks of St. James and St. John parishes, investigated 34 fatal crashes in 2020 with 36 deaths. In 2019, the troop investigated 35 fatal crashes, 24 of which involved impairment.
The trend continued in Terrebonne and Lafourche in 2021. Troop C investigated 46 fatal crashes with 60 deaths last year. According to Trooper Ross Brennan, at least 20 of those drivers were impaired.
“There is still a backlog at the various crime labs and coroners’ offices, so that number could rise as we go further into 2022,” Brennan said Wednesday. “Traditionally, half of our fatal crashes involve some kind of impairment. We are already nearly at half of 46 with many of the toxicology results still pending. So 2021 could potentially be higher than that 50% impairment involved average.”
By this time in 2020, Troop C investigated four deadly crashes with four fatalities, Brennan said. State Police investigated four fatal crashes by this time last year with five fatalities. So far this year Terrebonne and Lafourche have had eight fatal crashes with eight deaths.
“So compared to the last two years, we are already double what they tended to be,” Brennan said. “2021 was one of the deadliest years for driving on Louisiana highways. Preliminary numbers show that over 1,000 people lost their lives due to car crashes, with that number increasing daily as the total statistics come in. Unfortunately, the last year those numbers were that high was all the way in 2007. While we do see a significant increase in designated drivers and rideshare app users, there is still work to be done in reducing fatal crashes in our state due to impaired drivers.”
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Mothers Against Drunk Driving is urging Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to call a national meeting to address the issue and install technology in new cars that help prevent drunk driving.
“It’s heartbreaking to learn that in addition to the tragedy and disruption caused by the pandemic, families and communities are being irreparably traumatized by the 100% preventable, violent crime of drunk driving,” said MADD National President Alex Otte. “NHTSA’s new data shows the human cost of complacency and the need for drunk driving prevention technology on all new vehicles and increased equitable traffic safety enforcement.”
Brennan is urging residents to think twice before getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or drugs.
“If a person plans to consume any alcohol or drugs, have a designated driver planned before you venture out,” he said. “Drugs that cause impairment can also be prescription medication as well. If your prescription medication makes you feel or act differently, it can make you drive differently too. If someone is found to be driving while under the influence of a prescribed medication, they still risk the chances of being arrested just like someone who is impaired off of alcohol or illegal drugs.”
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Though law-enforcement agencies are tackling impaired driving, it is ultimately up to the community to help reverse the trend, Brennan said.
“2022 can be our year to turn those numbers and trends around,” he said. “While many do make good driving decisions, it takes all of us working together as a community to make the right choices behind the wheel and choosing to not drive impaired or even distracted. By doing this, we can make a better and safer Louisiana for our fellow drivers.”
— Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 448-7639 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanVCopp.