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DWI fatalities doubled in county since 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Consider it a case of dueling data sets, of one group of numbers not telling the whole story. And consider it the latest bad news when it comes to DWI in New Mexico – particularly Albuquerque.

Last month, my colleague Ryan Boetel reported that fewer vehicles were being confiscated from drunken drivers in the Duke City.

“City’s DWI vehicle seizures plummet,” said the front-page headline Oct. 18. Ryan found that number of vehicles seized by the city shrank from 1,976 vehicles in 2010 to 778 in the 2017 fiscal year, which ended in June. Fewer city cops, tougher DWI penalties and ride-sharing options were cited as possible reasons.

And that prompted speculation that perhaps the world and New Mexico had changed, that fewer people are driving drunk, that more are designating drivers and taking Uber or Lyft.

And maybe more are.

But a look at the carnage that DWI wreaks on our community – the number of those killed in such wrecks – shows that not enough are.

In 2013, according to the New Mexico Department of Transportation and University of New Mexico, 23 people died in wrecks related to alcohol in Bernalillo County. In 2016, the local DWI death toll had more than doubled, to 52.

The number of traffic deaths involving victims who did not buckle up also greatly increased in the Albuquerque area. In 2013, nine people who died in crashes in Bernalillo County were not wearing seat belts. In 2016, that number more than tripled, to 29.

In fact, there were just – and isn’t that an awful way to look at it, “just”? – 50 traffic deaths in Bernalillo County in 2013. There were 100 last year.

In 2014, the number of traffic fatalities was 69, and in 2015, the number was 64.

Each year since 2013, about half of all traffic fatalities in the county have involved alcohol. And the percentage of those not wearing seat belts has steadily climbed – from 18 percent in 2013 to 26 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2015 and to 29 percent in 2016.

Statewide, there were 133 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2013. The number jumped to 173 last year. And in a scary side note, statewide seat-belt fatalities also went in the wrong direction, from 130 in 2013 to 147 in 2016. Overall, traffic deaths in the Land of Enchantment went from 311 in 2013 to 405 last year.

Through September of this year, there were 272 traffic fatalities in New Mexico – down from the same period in 2016 but up from 2015. This year, 92 of the traffic fatalities were related to alcohol; ditto for seat-belt fatalities.

In Bernalillo County this year, there have been 67 traffic deaths, with 21 involving alcohol, a slightly slower pace than last year’s numbers.

So maybe fewer Duke City drivers are getting behind the wheel when they’ve been drinking, more are catching a ride with a sober pal or booking a ride on their smartphones.

But in Bernalillo County, the families and friends of the 23 people killed in an alcohol-related crashes in 2013, the 35 killed in 2014 and in 2015, the 52 killed in 2016 and the 21 killed so far this year will undoubtedly tell you far too many drivers are still getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t, and not enough are using designated drivers or ride-sharing services.

Not by a long shot.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to editorial page editor D’Val Westphal at 823-3858 or dwestphal@abqjournal.com. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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