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Don’t wreck the season by drinking and driving

In a season of good cheer, traffic safety experts and law enforcement officers urge people to not drink and drive. Even so, sobering statistics show that gains made in decreasing DUI fatality rates in the 1980s and 1990s have become stagnant in the 2000s.

From 1980-92, the DUI fatality rate dropped in Washington state by two-thirds, said Shelly Baldwin, impaired driving program manager for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. During that period, 5,420 people died in DUI crashes.

That rate dropped another third from 1993-99. Since then, it’s been flat.

“Our dramatic progress of the 1980s and 1990s has reached a virtual standstill. I’m not exactly sure why,” said Baldwin, who speculated that those most likely to modify their behavior have been reached, leaving hard-core drinking drivers.

The trend is mirrored across the country.

Baldwin suggests that tougher efforts and more resources need to be focused on the problem. Increased use of ignition interlocks to prevent impaired drivers from starting their cars is one key step.

Others are encouraging people to model good behavior and help keep their friends and family safe during the Christmas party season.

AAA Washington suggests that hosts offer plenty of high-protein food and nonalcoholic drinks as well as monitoring alcohol intake to make sure those who are impaired don’t drive home.

“I do believe people have a difficult time judging how impaired they are,” said AAA spokeswoman Jennifer Harbison. “It’s very important for party planners to help their guests and keep them safe.”

Snowplow safety

For some reason, the people who complain the loudest when roads aren’t plowed are often those most likely to fume when they get caught behind a snowplow.

Following are tips from Washington State Department of Transportation spokesman Al Gilson on snowplow safety.

Tip 1: “The road is always better behind the plow than it is in front of it.”

Tip 2: Never pass a snow plow on the right. That is, unless you want your car covered in snow and gravel.

Tip 3: Stay back 50 feet behind the plow. Plows do double duty both clearing the roadway of snow and applying sand or deicer, which can damage vehicles that follow too closely.

Cell phone clarification

Getting There screwed up last week, confusing the start date for a new Washington text messaging law with the start date for a new Washington cell phone law.

Here’s the correct information: Text messaging while driving becomes illegal in January.

Driving with a hand-held cell phone to your ear becomes illegal in July. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep chatting behind the wheel until then.

Project heads-up

The city of Spokane is holding two public meetings this week to brief people about projects in 2008.

The first meeting, on a Wall Street rehabilitation project from Wellesley Avenue to Francis Avenue, is at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Shadle Park Library, 2111 W. Wellesley.

The second, on the Maple/Ash Street project between Broadway and Northwest Boulevard, is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt St.


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