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Advocacy groups that are against drunk driving, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), often insist that their efforts are far more effective than they really are. This isn’t surprising – they’re advocacy groups, whose sole purpose is to convince others that they’re right.
However, when it comes to preventing people from dying in car accidents across the United States, the effect of passing more draconian laws that deal with operating under the influence (OUI) is often overblown. Now, researchers at the University of Connecticut are showing that road fatalities might have more to do with the economy than previously thought.
Since the 1970s, the number of people who have been killed in car accidents has been in a steady decline. This graph, posted on Wikipedia, shows the total number of people killed in car accidents every year, according to stats gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Since the high point in the early 1970s, these numbers have dropped significantly, despite the fact that the population of the United States has increased by 52%.
However, 2015 and the first months of 2016 showed a significant resurgence of road fatalities, both in total numbers and in fatalities per mile driven. Focusing on the first six months of each year, the National Safety Council found that nearly 18% more people died on the road in 2016 than in 2014. The sharp spike was a shock to many.
Drunk driving advocacy groups have long claimed to have been behind this steady drop off. They’ve claimed that it’s the increasingly stringent OUI laws that they’ve pushed on state legislatures, including here in Maine, that have saved so many lives. They’re sure to point to the new rise in road fatalities as a reason to get even more serious with OUI penalties.
However, researchers at the University of Connecticut have pointed out that a better explanation for the slow decline since the 1970s, and for the recent uptick in car accident deaths, involves economic factors.
The study found that traffic-related fatalities, which do include those that come from drunk driving, rise both when gas prices are low, and when the unemployment rate is down. People drive more when gas is cheap, and have to drive more when they have a job to commute to, every day. On the other hand, unemployed people are less likely to spend money driving, have fewer places to go, and tend to be more careful on the road, as a car accident or ticket can drastically imperil their fragile financial state.
While more stringent OUI laws might have some effect on the number of people who die on the roads, every year, this economic explanation likely accounts for far more of the lives saved than drunk driving advocacy groups would like to admit.
If you’ve been charged for OUI in the state of Maine, you need a solid OUI-defense attorney like William T. Bly to fight for your rights and interests. Contact his law office online or at (207) 571-8146.
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