Alcohol-related traffic deaths fell to the lowest level in a dozen years last year, and Transportation Secretary Federico Pena says he hopes to save an additional 6,000 lives annually by 2005.
At the conclusion of a forum on drunken driving Wednesday, Pena said preliminary figures indicate that 42 percent - or 16,884 - of the 40,200 traffic deaths recorded in 1994 were influenced by alcohol.
In 1993, Pena had set a goal of reducing the proportion of alcoholrelated deaths from 46 percent to 43 percent of all highway fatalities by the end of 1996.
Because of the unexpected headway, he announced a new goal - reducing drunken-driving deaths to 11,000 annually by 2005 - saying “our progress so far tells us that we can achieve this goal.”“This is an extraordinary national tragedy that many have come to accept as unalterable,” Pena said at a news conference.
The number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes has been declining since 1987. Alcohol was a factor in 57 percent of all highway deaths in 1982, when the federal government began keeping data.
Representatives of some of the 100 community and safety organizations, automobile and insurance companies attending the two-day forum drafted proposals on how to get the “don’t drink and drive” message to those who need it most - alcoholics and repeat offenders, adults 21 to 34 years old and people under age 21.
Their recommendations included checking repeat drunken-driving offenders for blood-alcohol content that’s below the legal limit of 0.10 percent in most states, reducing the legal blood-alcohol level nationwide, restricting driving privileges for individuals caught driving drunk and beefing up existing laws.