A deadly grade

Released a week before the holiday season's Thanksgiving kickoff, and no doubt intentionally so, the 2002 Rating the States report card by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the GuideOne Foundation offers the sobering view that this country is still doing a miserable job of removing the scourge of drunk driving from the nation's highways and byways. Trying perhaps to sound a serious but not

Released a week before the holiday season's Thanksgiving kickoff, and no doubt intentionally so, the 2002 “Rating the States” report card by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the GuideOne Foundation offers the sobering view that this country is still doing a miserable job of removing the scourge of drunk driving from the nation's highways and byways.

Trying perhaps to sound a serious but not too shrill a note (although I for one think they should not worry about offending anyone with their message as nowhere is drinking and driving legally enshrined as a right of Americans), MADD/Guide One insists on summing up the report with a letter grade. This time around it is a “C”, but unlike George W.'s marks at Yale, there is nothing gentlemanly about this here C.

No, this “C is for complacency,” says MADD national president Wendy J. Hamilton. She points out that while alcohol-related traffic deaths dropped by 40% between the time MADD was founded in 1980 and 1993, progress stalled as deaths leveled off at about 16,500 between 1993 and 1999. Over the past three years, drunk driving deaths have climbed by 5%, according to MADD.

Hamilton says the nation's grade fell to a “C” thanks to an increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths, illustrating the “urgent need for more government resources dedicated to drunk driving and underage drinking as well as strong leadership” from Congress, the Bush Administration and other elected officials.

“The war on drunk driving has reached a complacent plateau and we must change the dangerous public perception that the fight against drunk driving has been won,” Hamilton contends.

At the federal level, in the area of political leadership, the Administration's grade slipped to a “C” since the last Rating the States report released in 1999, while the U.S. Senate earned a “B+,” and the U.S. House a “C.”

Nationally, law enforcement programs and blood-alcohol testing and data collection efforts improved to a “C+.” Passage of administrative measures and criminal sanctions nationwide remained above average at a “B-,” youth programs and underage drinking prevention efforts dropped to a “C+” grade, and victims programs dropped to a “D+.”

No state earned an “A” in this year's report. California received the highest grade of a “B+,” followed by Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Oregon, which received “B” grades. The only state to receive a failing “F” grade was Montana.

“The nation should be acing this fight for our lives because drunk driving is 100% preventable,” Hamilton says. “The nation's lower grade reflects the lack of political will, leadership and resources dedicated to waging a winning war on drunk driving.”

MADD has identified several “top-priority” laws it believes states should adopt: administrative license revocation (ALR); .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC)/illegal per se; primary enforcement safety belt laws; mandatory alcohol assessment and treatment; mandatory BAC testing for all drivers in fatal crashes; hospital BAC reporting; victim rights constitutional amendments; vehicle impoundment; and ignition interlock laws.

Waving the report card, MADD is challenging citizens and politicians alike to “Get MADD All Over Again” and support its eight-point plan to curb drunk driving and underage drinking.

The MADD plan calls for widespread use of sobriety checkpoints and other highly visible enforcement efforts, tougher laws for the more serious DUI offenders, court monitoring programs, higher beer excise taxes, stronger seat belt laws, reducing underage drinking, and establishing a National Traffic Safety Fund to support education and enforcement programs.

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