The new head of the National Transportation Safety Board plans a major campaign to reduce the disproportionate toll taken by “hard-core” drunken drivers, the New York Times reports.
The board defined as hard-core drivers those with prior arrests or convictions who continue to drive drunk or people caught driving with a blood alcohol level nearly double the legal limit.
They are estimated to make up fewer than 1 percent of all drivers but 27 percent of drivers in fatal accidents.
Ellen G. Engleman, who was sworn in as chairwoman on March 24, said the board would be more aggressive in urging safety changes before state legislatures and other policy-making bodies. She wants to coordinate the advocacy work of all five board members and members of the staff.
The board’s recommendations include establishing a new charge for hard-core offenders: aggravated drunken driving; eliminating plea bargaining that results in conviction for a charge that does not include alcohol; and ending programs that let drivers have their records expunged, typically in exchange for undergoing treatment or performing community service and avoiding additional arrests. Those practices make it harder to identify repeat offenders.
One in seven motor vehicle deaths involve hard-core drunken drivers. In 1998, she said, such a driver was involved in 39.9 percent of all fatal accidents that involved alcohol. By 2001 that had risen to 46.5 percent. In general, the United States made strong progress on drunken driving for 15 years but recently has been losing ground.