Alcohol-Related Fatality Trends in New York

Each year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks the number of motor vehicle accident fatalities across the United States. The NHTSA also tracks the number of fatalities caused by alcohol impairment. According to the NHTSA, an alcohol-impaired driving fatality is “a fatality in a crash involving a driver or motorcycle rider (operator) with a BAC of .08 g/dL or greater.” NHTSA reports reveal the country as a whole experienced an increase in fatalities connected to alcohol-related crashes. NHTSA reported a 4.6% increase in these deaths from 2011 to 2012, using its most recent set of data.

As in other states, New York has seen a slight increase in alcohol-related crash fatalities, though a decreasing trend had been prevalent. From 2006 to 2009, NY alcohol-impaired accident fatalities steadily decreased. However, in 2010, the number jumped from 318 in 2009 to 364. A dip occurred in 2011 with 328 fatalities, but rose again in 2012 to 344 fatalities.

A 2012 report from the New York Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee highlighted certain measures the state government planned to initiate in 2013. These initiatives were in part designed to decrease impaired driving fatalities throughout the state. Such measures included numerous public campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of impaired driving, as well as the legal consequences of driving while impaired or intoxicated. Without more recent data from 2013 and beyond, it is difficult to determine the success or failure of these statewide campaigns.

Even without hard facts to judge New York’s awareness campaigns, the presence of such campaigns has certainly been felt. A part of these programs is increased sobriety checkpoints. Police are allowed to set up these checkpoints that require drivers to stop. Law enforcement use these checkpoints to crack down on impaired and intoxicated driving throughout the year, though they are particularly common around holidays when drivers may be more likely to drink. New York allows police officers to require any suspected impaired driver to submit to a chemical breath test. These breathalyzer tests detect the driver’s blood alcohol level by analyzing his or her breath. However, breathalyzer tests have a documented history of inaccuracies. In fact, these chemical tests do not take into account several factors that could affect a blood alcohol reading. For example, a driver’s age, weight, and ingestion of medication could potentially lead to false results.

Despite the common problems that can affect breath tests, it is unlawful for a driver to refuse to submit to a blood alcohol chemical test. When a motorist refuses to submit to a chemical test of their breath, blood, or urine related to a DWI stop, that driver can be charged with a DWI Chemical Test Refusal. Upon conviction for this charge, that driver can face a driver’s license revocation of 12 to 18 months, and a fine of up to $750. These penalties are in addition to any penalties resulting from a DWI conviction.

As New York continues to enact programs designed to decrease drinking and driving, it is increasingly likely sobriety checkpoints will continue to remain a strong presence throughout the state.