It’s the luck o’ the Irish… right?
That’s got to be what keeps some people safe when they don’t practice common sense and choose to drink and drive.
A recent report distributed by the Insurify insurance company listed Wyoming as No. 2 in the nation when it comes to drivers being caught intoxicated behind the wheel. According to the report, 4.68% of drivers in Wyoming have a DUI on their record (the national average is 2.16%).
Lt. Col. Shannon Ratliff is the operations commander for the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He said he thinks there’s a cultural factor behind Wyoming’s high ranking.
“I mean, we don’t have Uber in a lot of communities,” he said, adding that “people just aren’t afraid to get in their vehicle and drive after they’ve been drinking.”
And that attitude is born out in the statistics. Cody Beers, a department public relations specialist for the department, said he is particularly alarmed by one statistic.
“The statistic that really jumps out at me is that in 2019, 28% of all arrests statewide had to do with people with an average blood alcohol content of 0.16%,” Beers said, quoting from a publication called Alcohol and Crime in Wyoming.
The level at which a driver is considered intoxicated under Wyoming law us 0.08%, about half of Wyoming’s average.
“You’ve got a culture that accepts public drunkenness. And you’ve also got drivers who can function at a high level, and that’s pretty scary,” Beers said.
Beers added that drinking increases the chances for a crash.
“You know, when people are out driving impaired they’re not wearing their seatbelts or they’re driving too fast,” he said. “And when you combine those factors together, you’re not buckled and you’re driving too fast and you’re drinking and driving, you’re gonna have a crash. There’s too many strikes against you.”
And the numbers are rising, according to Beers.
“Statistics show that we had 15,000 traffic crashes in 2019, which is an increase of 7.2% over 2018.”
Beers pointed out that while Wyoming’s law enforcement officers are making DUI arrests, there are obviously a number of people out there who have higher tolerances for alcohol.
“The 48% of people arrested for DUI had a blood alcohol level of 0.16%, and 13% had a blood alcohol of 0.24% or greater,” Beers said. “And when you jump into percentages like that, you start seeing that you’ve got bigger issues than just a guy getting a DUI.
“Our law enforcement does a great job catching that first-time DUI guy that’s like 0.09%,” he continued. “But we aren’t always as successful catching those 0.16% and above, because these are the people who do this stuff every day, they’re pros.”
So how do authorities try to counter the rising numbers of DUI arrests? Education, according to Lt. Col. Ratliff.
“Wyoming Highway Patrol has several drug recognition experts all over the state,” Ratliff said. “ We have impaired driver education that we get into the schools, and we have an Alive at 25 program.”
“Of course our goal is to keep our young people alive, because we know there’s an inordinate percentage of young folks who are involved in impaired driving incidents and crashes,” he added.
But Ratliff pointed out that it’s not just Highway Patrol troopers who are trained in identifying impaired drivers.
“We recognize that our port of entry folks are very well positioned to detect alcohol on commercial drivers as they come into the state,” he said. “Unfortunately, our ports of entry do detect a large number of drivers who are impaired every year. And an 80,000 pound truck – or heavier – with an impaired driver is just unacceptable, it’s a recipe for disaster.”
So Ratliff said ports of entry staff are trained in what’s known as ARIDE, or Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement.
WYDOT Director Luke Reiner agreed that education is the best tool that the department has to save lives.
“You know, for me, part of fixing this issue is recognizing and acknowledging the issue,” Reiner said, giving a nod to Gov. Mark Gordon for ensuring that the Council on Impaired Driving continues.
“It’s important for us to set the conditions for our success around the state. And certainly, we’ll continue to educate, because I do agree that’s the key tool that we have, to say ‘This is not who we want to be,’” he said
This week, WYDOT has a higher level of concern about impaired drivers.
According to WYDOT statistics, St. Patrick’s Day is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year – and this, unfortunately, means more drunk drivers on the roads.
“We spend a lot of time putting out information saying, you know, if you need a designated driver, have a plan before you go and all that,” Beers said. “And always remember that you need to have a sober ride home.”