Saturday was the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii. A community ceremony was held at MADD’s poignant Victim Memorial statue in Kakaako Waterfront Park. The president of MADD National was present, as were Lt. Gov. Josh Green and many other local leaders.
Looking back, MADD Hawaii, like MADD nationally, played a key role in cutting alcohol-related traffic fatalities in half in the 1980s and 1990s. Mysteriously, however, the trend has flattened since 2000. There are still around 10,000 such deaths annually nationwide, and a five-year average of 60, including drug-impaired fatalities, in Hawaii.
And drugs are playing an increasing role in this havoc. Last year Hawaii traffic fatalities involving drugs alone were over twice the number for alcohol alone and an additional number revealed the deadly combination of both drugs and alcohol.
In 2017, only four states were worse than Hawaii in percent of total traffic fatalities that were alcohol-related. In its most recent study, the Centers for Disease Control completed interviews with 467,334 U.S. adults regarding their impaired driving behavior. As measured by the number of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving episodes in a year, Hawaii was worst in the nation. In fact, Hawaii topped the charts by a wide margin.
What are some of the reasons?
1) Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. without probation for DUI, and probation is what makes offenders accountable for carrying out their sentences.
2) With no in-state laboratory, drug tests (toxicology) have to be carried out on the mainland, with significant delays, costs, and other complications.
3) A number of recent decisions by our state Supreme Court have favored DUI offenders and often hindered law enforcement.
4) Although the in-car breathalyzer (“ignition interlock”) prevents more than 12,000 attempts a year by Hawaii offenders to drive after drinking, it is only utilized by fewer than 25% of eligible offenders — those who wish to drive legally while their license is revoked for DUI. Most of those not installing an interlock device continue to drive illegally and Hawaii has weak penalties for driving after a person’s license has been revoked for DUI.
People seem to drink and drive “because they can.” Data shows this is especially true of males aged 18 to 35. They seem to ignore traditional educational messaging. They don’t seem concerned that they might cause injury, damage and tragedy. They only seem to fear getting caught. And our beleaguered police and prosecutors face daunting obstacles to securing conviction and punishment.
Recent needless disasters like January’s Kakaako intersection crash are constant reminders of our serious highway safety problems. These 100% preventable crashes just keep happening over and over. The anguish of victims is heartbreaking.
It’s time to get “MADD” all over again. Thoughtful Hawaii state legislators agree that a complete reexamination and overhaul of Hawaii’s DUI statutes is long overdue.
Reforms should include probation; increased consequences for not using ignition interlock; meaningful penalties for driving while license is revoked for DUI; the establishment of a Hawaii-based toxicology laboratory; and, a fresh look at the 0.08 blood alcohol legal threshold (which many states are considering lowering to 0.05).
MADD itself needs to continue its program of educating youth, young adults and those who come in contact with this age group about the facts relating to using drugs and driving. We are encouraged that our national office just announced it is developing a special campaign relating to drugs and driving after staff members visited Hawaii last October to attend our “Drugs and Driving” conference.
Next month MADD Hawaii will be honoring individual police and prosecutors around the state who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in protecting roadway users from those who still don’t “get it.” These men and women of law enforcement have been swimming upstream against a strong current of indifferent attitudes, changing habits, and reductions in their own ranks.
It really is “time to get MADD all over again.” On this occasion of our 35th anniversary, MADD Hawaii could use everyone’s support in solving Hawaii’s lethal impaired-driving problem.