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Despite the activism of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the cautionary tales from those like Lindsay Lohan, Americans continue to drive drunk. A new survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted in late 2008 and released this week found that approximately 17 million people drive drunk in the U.S.at least once in the course of a year.
Breaking down these surprising numbers further, the Associated Press reports that under the survey, NHTSA believes that 8 percent of all drivers, or 17.2 million people, have driven at least once over the course of a year, even though they thought they were drunk. Unfortunately, the problem doesn't end there. Not finding a ride from a sober driver, 8 percent said they got a ride from a driver they thought was drunk. The numbers are even higher in younger male drivers, between 21 and 24 years old. In this age group, 24 percent reported riding with a driver they thought had had too much to drink.
However, there is some good news in these troubling statistics. The fact that drunk driving is a major safety issue is well understood. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they saw it as a serious public safety threat. But knowing you have a problem, and fixing that problem, are two different things. "We have got to do more, as a country, to close the gap between believing that drunk driving is a threat and actively doing something about it," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.
If a person is arrested for drunk driving, the courts have many methods at their disposal to help them deal with the problem. Technology such as monitoring bracelets helps keep offenders from drinking at all. In fourteen states, even first time DUI offenders may be set up with ignition interlock devices in their cars. These interlock devices prevent the car engine from turning over until the computer recieves a no alcohol-reading from the breath of the driver. The state of California began a first-time offender interlock pilot program just this past June.
Consumer Reports writes that the Department of Transportation has begun its drunk driving prevention campaign. "Over the limit, Under arrest" is currently underway and will continue through the Labor Day holiday. During this time, police will be out in force and focused on stopping drunk driving.