Nebraska ranks 3rd in drunk driving


December 14th, 2010

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Nebraska ranks 3rd in the nation for self-reported drunk driving (Photo courtesy James Cridland, Wikimedia Commons)

Omaha, NE – Nebraska has the third highest rate of drunk drivers in the country. That’s according to a new survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which shows a staggering 30 million people in America admitted to driving drunk last year. (Click here for the full report)

The upper Midwest is a dark red on the survey’s map of drunk drivers, showing the deepest concentration of people over 16 years old who say they drove drunk last year, over 17 percent on average. Wisconsin and North Dakota topped the list with over 23 and 22 percent. Nebraska came in 3rd with over 21 percent. The national average is 13 percent.

“You’d like to think at least that Nebraskans may be more honest than other people in other parts of the country,” said Fred Zwonachek is an Administrator for the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. “But, you know, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, all those states rank very high as well,” he said. “It may be something that’s in our culture, heritage, where alcohol’s involved in a lot of activities.”

Recent high profile fatalities involving drunk drivers in Omaha led the Omaha World Herald to examine the numbers of alcohol-related crashes. Of the 224 drunk drivers involved in fatalities between 2006 and 2009, the paper reported 43 percent had previous DUIs. Serial drunk drivers are more likely to have alcohol abuse or dependency problems, although it’s difficult to gauge how frequently that’s the case.

“I know this stuff goes on. Drunk driving is a serious issue, and there a lot of people are engaging in it,” said Nate Bock, a drug and alcohol counselor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Bock said serial drunk driving is not necessarily a sign of alcohol abuse or dependence, but when it happens, it needs to be targeted with a “kitchen sink” approach. And he said educating people about it is not enough.

“There’s a lot of question about whether education alone really does anything,” he said. “And that’s coming from someone who works at an institution of higher education.”

“What we know is education alone really doesn’t change behavior. What we need to do is look at more environmental factors that are present.”

Behavioral-modification programs like training bartenders to recognize intoxicated people and stop serving them alcohol can be effective, he said. But, as Zwonachek agreed, addiction is difficult to treat, and drunk driving is difficult behavior to break.

“Obviously you’ve seen some of our efforts to do messaging regarding drunk driving,” Zwonachek said. “And most of those, at least from the ones we do, have strong enforcement messages. So that combined with the aggressive efforts by law enforcement does deter some of these people from driving. But unfortunately, far too many of them continue to do so, and perhaps those around them don’t recognize the problem until it’s too late.”

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