Kansas recorded the second-biggest increase in drunken-driving fatalities in the country last year even as alcohol-related deaths declined nationwide.
The state registered 168 alcohol-related traffic deaths during 2010, up by 45 from the year before, according to new statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“That statistic is stunningly bad,” said Kansas Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.
Kansas trailed only New York, which saw drunk-driving deaths increase by 46 in 2010, which is the latest year available for highway data. Almost 4 in 10 highway deaths in Kansas were related to alcohol, federal data show.
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The issue has bedeviled the Sunflower state in recent years as lawmakers have struggled to toughen laws to deal with repeat offenders.
A state report in 2009 characterized Kansas’ system for dealing with drunken-driving offenders as dysfunctional.
Among other things, the report concluded that people drive drunk repeatedly without risk of serious punishment and that it can be hard to track repeat violators because DUI arrests or convictions are sometimes not reported or are lost or discarded.
Earlier this year, Colloton teamed with state Sen. Tim Owens of Overland Park to fix the system.
They got a law passed that required first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlocks placed on their vehicles.
Kansas is now one of 14 states that have mandatory ignition interlocks for all drunken-driving offenders.
Colloton and Owens also secured funding for a central records repository where drunken-driving convictions can be tracked statewide.
The change in the law wouldn’t have influenced the 2010 numbers. But Owens said the 2010 figure substantiates the need for the changes that the Legislature made this year.
Overall, drunken-driving fatalities were down about 5 percent nationally in 2010 compared to the year before. They declined in 32 states, including Missouri.
Research has indicated that ignition interlocks — a breath-test device connected to a vehicle’s ignition system – can reduce recidivism by 67 percent.
One study done in New Mexico found a 32 percent decline in alcohol-related injury crashes from 2002 to 2006, a period when interlocks were installed for 35 percent of all arrested offenders.