Nevada drops to C- on drunk-driving report card

Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - For dealing with drunk driving and underage drinking, Nevada fell to a C- in the latest ratings by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"Drunk driving continues to be the most frequently committed violent crime in our country," said MADD National President Karolyn Nunnallee, as the group released its national and state report cards Tuesday.

In the new report cards, Nevada dropped to the C- from a C+ in 1996.

"We're on a downward spiral," said Laurel Stadler, chapter director of the Lyon County MADD.

Nevada and seven other states have an overall grade of C-. Only three states have a lower grade at D+. California tops the list with an A. MADD determined the overall grades by examining nine categories, including political leadership, law enforcement and public awareness.

Some state officials say they are doing more to fight drunk driving than what the C- grade reflects.

"I have some concerns about how the questions are asked and how the ratings are determined," said Joann Keller, highway safety coordinator.

For example, in Clark County a two-year-old treatment program has had no repeat offenders, Keller said. As part of the program, drivers convicted in fatal, alcohol-related accidents must wear armbands with the names of those who died in the accidents.

From MADD's perspective, Nevada's C- is partly from a large percentage of alcohol-related, fatal car accidents. In the state, 49 per cent of traffic fatalities are alcohol related, according to the report. The national percentage is 38.4.

In Nevada, 177 people died in alcohol-related car accidents in 1998. The national total for that year was 15,935.

Nationally, it is the lowest number since MADD was founded in 1980.

Although the overall national grade is up from a C in 1996 to a C+, Nunnallee warned against complacency in government, law enforcement and the public.

"The nation has lost much of the momentum behind the war on drunk driving" since the previous report in 1996, said Nunnallee.

For Nevada, another reason for the C- is a failure to pass 14 of 32 key laws that MADD says are needed to fight drunk driving, said Stadler.

She and national MADD leaders on Tuesday emphasized three laws that lower the blood alcohol limit to .08, allow police to suspend drivers' licenses who fail the blood-alcohol test and allow police to ticket drivers who aren't wearing seat belts even if they haven't committed another offense.

Of those three, Nevada has adopted only the law to allow immediate suspension of drivers' licenses, according to the report.

"We're having fairly poor luck legislatively," Stadler said.

To highlight state efforts to cut drunk-driving fatalities, both the Nevada governor's office and the Lyon County MADD chapter are launching special events.

Gov. Kenny Guinn proclaimed today a time for Nevadans to honor the memory of Erik Quintana Jr., an elementary school student killed by a drunk driver.

And the Lyon County MADD chapter kicked off its "Project Red Ribbon" campaign Tuesday. Participants commit to driving sober and tie red ribbons on their cars' antennas to remind other drivers to do the same.

"We need to fight this battle everyday," Stadler said.

"We need everyone's help."


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