In what will become a yearly event, 110 professionals gathered for the first Texas Impaired Driving Forum in Austin April 9, joining forces in hopes of battling the more than 7,200 fatal and serious crashes in Texas last year related to alcohol use.
“By working together, we have a much better chance of discovering new ways to decrease the incidence of impaired driving,” Melissa Walden, the forum’s mistress of ceremonies, says. Walden is the program manager of the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) Planning and Evaluation Program. “The issue of impaired driving is very complex, and that’s why it will take professionals from all the various stakeholder groups to make progress.”
Those attending the forum included law enforcement, educators, prosecutors, researchers and advocacy groups.
“Impaired-driving crashes are entirely preventable,” says Frank Saenz with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). “At TxDOT, we strongly urge drivers to take responsibility when they are behind the wheel. Drinking and driving not only can get you or a loved one killed or in serious trouble, but also can have a devastating impact on other motorists sharing the road. We support the Impaired Driving Forum and its mission to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving.”
In her presentation to the forum, Walden illustrated the magnitude of the impaired driving problem in Texas by highlighting the 2013 crash statistics. Fifteen percent of the 7,214 alcohol-related crashes last year resulted in fatalities, which amounts to 1,089 deaths — representing 32 percent of all fatalities.
Despite what many think about the age of drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes, the majority, 61 percent of the fatalities, were over the age of 30. Also, those involved in crashes had an average blood-alcohol content (BAC) level greater than 0.15, dispelling the myth that most drivers may have had “just one drink too many.”
Among the topics discussed at the forum included the possibility of an integrated driving-while-intoxicated data system, the status of no refusal events, improvements to interlock devices, and other technologies and various countermeasures.
One such countermeasure is an effort by the National Safety Council (NSC) to work directly with Texas employers, educating its workforce about safe driving on and off the job.
“The Texas Impaired Driving Forum gave me the chance to get to know the people who have the same goals as I do and the opportunity to work with them on various ideas,” says Lisa Robinson, program manager for the NSC Texas Employer Safety Program. “I’m just one person, so it’s key that I partner with other professionals who have a wealth of information that helps me in my job.”
The forum was sponsored by CTS and the Texas Impaired Driving Task Force through the support of TxDOT.