WASHINGTON -- Drunken driving fatality rates have fallen in 40 states and the District of Columbia, an encouraging sign that crackdowns are improving highway safety.
The Transportation Department said Monday that 11,773 people were killed in drunken driving crashes in 2008 for a rate of 0.4 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2007, 13,041 motorists were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes for a rate of 0.43.
Vermont, Wisconsin, Maine, Nebraska, Minnesota, Connecticut, South Dakota, Arizona and the District of Columbia saw fatality rates involving alcohol-linked crashes decline by 20 percent or more.
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The rates were virtually unchanged in three states -- Delaware, Florida and Pennsylvania -- and rates increased in seven states: New Hampshire, Kansas, Wyoming, Rhode Island, Idaho, Oklahoma and Colorado.
"Drinking and driving do not mix -- ever. The message bears repeating especially this time of year," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced plans for a $7 million holiday advertising campaign to combat drunken driving.
LaHood said states that made the most progress on impaired driving fatalities had been the most aggressive in arresting and prosecuting offenders and using patrols and checkpoints to keep their roads safe.
Chuck Hurley, the chief executive officer of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, also noted that improvements were made in states such as New Mexico and Arizona which have adopted tough laws using breath-monitoring ignition interlock devices for offenders.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have set a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 as the legal limit for drivers.
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