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Alcohol-related traffic deaths drop in Kansas, Transportation Department reports

Kansas has seen a drop in alcohol-related accidents and deaths, according to preliminary data from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

Numbers from the agency show the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths decreased 45 percent from 138 in 2010 to 76 in 2011. Alcohol-related accidents dropped 12 percent from 2,801 in 2010 to 2,463 in 2011.

Pete Bodyk, traffic safety manager for KDOT, said it’s too early to tell whether the decreasing numbers are tied to a new law that requires more people to install ignition interlock systems after being convicted of drunken driving.

“Hopefully, it’s the start of a downward trend,” Bodyk said.

The law, which took effect in July, requires first-time offenders to have interlock installed in their vehicles for at least six months. The vehicles won’t start if the interlock machines detect alcohol on the breath of a driver who blows into it.

Subsequent offenses mean the devices will be in a vehicle longer, culminating with 10 years for a fifth DUI. Previously, the devices weren’t required until a person had a second DUI offense.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported that before 2011, Kansas had lagged behind the country in reducing alcohol-related fatalities, seeing increases in recent years. Between 2000 and 2010, there was an average of 116 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the state.

Bodyk said last year’s decreases were probably the result of a combination of factors, including the new law and the intense media coverage of it. Bodyk also cited increased commitment by Kansas police agencies to crack down on drunken driving.

“I think law enforcement is doing a better job,” Bodyk said.

Karen Housewright, director of field operations for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, praised efforts to curb drunken driving in Kansas, which joined 14 other states to enact a first-time offender ignition interlock law.

“We know they (ignition interlocks) save lives,” Housewright said. “The evidence is hard to refute.”

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