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DUI studies reinforce local experience

August 30, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — A recent federal study in which 8 percent of the population admits to driving drunk at least once in the past year didn't surprise Police Chief Daniel Charette.

"Look at the reality of what America does," he said. "We have next to zero public transit, it's common practice to have alcohol at restaurants, and they're located on major roadways."

And it doesn't help, he noted, that more people are drinking as an attempt to cope with the economy, nor that current state law makes it "severely, overly complicated" to convict drunk drivers.

At issue is a study released last month by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which found that around 17.2 million U.S. drivers admitted driving "when they thought they were over the legal limit" at least once. A similar percentage (8 percent) admitted riding with drivers they believed were drunk.

Among other findings, NHTSA identified that "problem drinkers" comprise 22 percent of drunk drivers, but 36 percent of the trips involved. Such "problem" drivers are twice as likely to report having driven drunk, it stated.

Curiously, just 1 percent of the population nationwide has been arrested for DUI in the past two years. In a July 2009 report of National Roadside Survey data from 2007, 2.2 percent of people surveyed were legally drunk during weekend random nighttime stops (but just 0.01 percent during daytime), a figure that's been falling since 1973. That study, however, found that many of the drivers tested positive for various drugs using saliva samples — 11 percent by day and 14.4 percent by night, with the most common drugs being marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.

See Wednesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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