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Driving While Impaired (DWI) on the Decline in Alaska

More than 30 million Americans drove under the influence of alcohol last year while 10 million drove after using illicit drugs. Even so, Alaska is one of about a dozen states to lower the rate of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to a study from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. For the period 2006-2009, Alaska's drunk driving rate among people older than age 16 was 11.1 percent, down from 14.8 percent. The rate for driving under the influence of drugs dropped from 6.8 percent to 4.3 percent for the same years. Overall, the nation's drunk driving rate dropped from 14.6 percent to 13.2 percent.

When compared with the "lower 48" and Hawaii, Alaska places in the middle for the rates of both drunk driving and driving under the influence of drugs. Idaho, New Mexico, and Utah are among the states with the lowest rates of drunk and/or drug-impaired driving. Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Wisconsin led the parade for the highest rates of drinking and driving. Oklahoma, Oregon, and Colorado had the dubious distinction of the highest rates for driving while being impaired by drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, and others. The results were based on a survey where people were interviewed face-to-face and asked if they had driven under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Therefore, citizens of the states on the top of the list might get high marks for honesty as well.

A representative of Alaska's Division of Behavioral Health claimed that Alaska's efforts to curb impaired driving are starting to succeed. So what is Alaska's secret? Well, they are not really sure, but it could be a number of things. Court-ordered treatment for first-time offenders and a more prolonged 18-month program for repeat offenders get some of the credit. Alcohol-sensitive ignition interlocks for all offenders also appear to be playing a part. These devices prevent a driver from starting a vehicle if alcohol is detected on his or her breath. Alaska also has teen licenses that limit the amount of passengers. Finally, stepped-up enforcement during holidays may also be having a beneficial effect.