Alcohol was involved in nearly 42 percent of all deadly car crashes in Arizona last year, putting the state in the top third nationwide for alcohol-related fatalities, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report by the physicianled traffic safety group, End Needless Death on Our Roadways, shows Arizona is 15th in alcohol-related fatal crashes, just behind South Carolina and Illinois.
“Arizona definitely does not like being listed on this,” said Michael Hegarty, spokesman for the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, “but we are taking every measure to decrease our numbers.”
The report does not take into account the state’s total number of crashes compared to population or miles traveled.
Hegarty said the national average for alcohol-related fatal crashes was about 39 percent.
But Arizona, which had improved slightly over the years, has slipped back to its 2003 level.
“Each year, we’ve had a record year of fatalities,” Hegarty said. “However, if you put that on the basis of vehicle miles traveled, we had a slight reduction.”
Other factors blamed for the state’s higher numbers are: large influxes of people, the need to drive farther and the fact that Arizonans spend significant amounts of time in their cars, Hegarty said.
The highest percentage of alcohol-related traffic fatalities was found in Washington, D.C., with Hawaii at No. 2 and Rhode Island at No. 3. The lowest numbers were found in Utah, Iowa, Georgia and Kentucky.
Many East Valley cities could not immediately report their numbers, but Mesa’s 2005 statistics show 28 percent of fatal crashes were alcohol-related, and during the first half of this year, it was 19 percent. Chandler officials reported about 18 percent from 2005 to the present.
In Gilbert, three people died this year in alcohol-related crashes and four people died last year.
Mesa detective Tim Gaffney, who has worked in DUI enforcement for more than 15 years, said drunken drivers are everywhere and can be anyone.
“I sign on at 5 o’clock to work and very rarely do I make it to 6 o’clock without finding one,” Gaffney said. “I see that as far as Mesa goes, we are constantly going up in our number of arrests.”
Mesa, a founding member of the East Valley DUI task force, will co-host the holiday season task force with Gilbert in early December.
Task forces have already begun operating throughout other parts of the state and have arrested more than 100 people, Hegarty said.
“No state can be proud of being this high,” he said, “especially since alcohol-related crashes are one of the more easily preventable ones.”
Fatal fifteen states
1. Washington, D.C. 54%
2. Hawaii 51%
3. Rhode Island 49%
4. Montana 49%
5. Delaware 49%
6. Alaska 49%
7. North Dakota 47%
8. Washington 45%
9. Wisconsin 45%
10. Texas 44%
11. Connecticut 43%
12. South Dakota 43%
13. Illinois 43%
14. South Carolina 43%
15. Arizona 42%
NOTE: Numbers were rounded