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What's Being Done to Decrease Impaired Driving Deaths in New Orleans?

Traffic at night in New Orleans with motion blur to indicate fast moving vehicles.

Efforts aimed at curbing crashes caused by impaired drivers are critical

Impaired driving remains a serious problem in New Orleans and other communities throughout the nation, contributing to almost one-third of all traffic fatalities. Unfortunately, despite years of public awareness campaigns and law enforcement efforts, too many people make the reckless decision to get behind the wheel of a car when they're impaired by drugs or alcohol. Often, the result is a serious car accident that leaves others with severe or fatal injuries.

To help combat the issue, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently conducted a comprehensive study. The study, released earlier this year, analyzed the crash risk associated with various drugs, including alcohol, cannabis, prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, and other substances. The researchers also examined the prevalence of drug use among drivers, shedding light on the scope and complexity of the problem.

"Impaired driving leads to tragedy every day on our nation's roads, but it doesn't have to," Jennifer Homendy, the federal safety agency's chair, said in a statement published by Forbes. "To create a truly safe system — one where impaired driving is a relic of the past — states and federal agencies must implement our recommendations, and fast. Further complacency is inexcusable."

NTSB uncovers several troubling trends

NTSB researchers discovered that, despite significant efforts to combat drunk driving, alcohol remains the most frequently detected drug in impaired driving incidents. Close behind is cannabis, which is often detected in conjunction with alcohol or other substances.

What's more, the study revealed that while alcohol is typically identified as the sole intoxicant, cannabis is most often detected in combination with other drugs. This finding underscores the complex nature of impaired driving and the challenges of addressing it effectively.

In its report, the NTSB identified several safety needs and 12 new recommendations aimed at preventing crashes caused by impaired drivers.

The safety needs include implementing proven countermeasures for alcohol-impaired driving; addressing the problems of cannabis-impaired, drug-impaired, and multiple-drug-impaired driving; improving drug-impaired driving laws and enforcement; considering driving safety in evaluating prescription and over-the-counter drugs; and enhancing systems for documenting and tracking drug use while driving.

The 12 recommendations include requiring warning labels on cannabis products, enhancing state drug-impaired driving laws, standardizing toxicology testing for drug use detection, and researching ways to improve compliance with driving-related warnings on potentially impairing prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

DWI enforcement efforts under the microscope in New Orleans

Despite the alarming increase in drunk driving fatalities locally and nationwide, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has seen a sharp decline in its response to incidents classified as DWI since 2011. According to the LSU Center for Analytics and Research in Transportation, statewide drunk driving arrests peaked in 2009 with nearly 32,000 arrests but plummeted to just 17,000 a decade later.

In particular, NOPD's DWI enforcement has dropped dramatically, with only 69 drunk drivers arrested in all of 2022. To put that into perspective, that is the same number of people arrested in the month leading up to Mardi Gras in 2019. Officials say the decline in enforcement is attributed to the dwindling number of officers on the force over the past decade.

Serious crashes involving alcohol have continued to rise during this time, with over 1,000 suspected alcohol-related accidents resulting in injuries or deaths in 2021, compared to 690 in 2011 when NOPD made over 1,300 drunk driving arrests. In 2021, there were only 156 DWI arrests, underscoring the urgent need for increased enforcement efforts.

"Sixty-nine DWI arrest in 2022 is abysmal," former New Orleans police chief Ronal Serpas said via WDSU. "It's horrific. It tells me that there are many people who are beginning to catch the wind that just like brazen criminals, there's no police looking for drunk drivers either."

Serpas, who served on the force in the mid-90s, noted that the current number of DWI arrests made by NOPD in an entire year is equivalent to the number that two of his officers would make in just one month during his time on the force.

"Isn't that long ago in my career, I was a sergeant, and I was in charge of the New Orleans Police Department DWI unit, and we had six or seven officers," Serpas said. "And each of those officers every month, just those six or seven officers would average 20 to 30 DWI arrests alone per person."

According to Interim Superintendent Michelle Woodfork, the NOPD is grappling with a workforce problem that is significantly impacting its traffic unit's ability to enforce drunk driving laws. While acknowledging the decline in DWI arrests made by NOPD, Woodfork stated that the department is actively working on a solution, noting that the department is in the process of implementing a system that allows for more efficient handling of traffic accidents, freeing up officers to focus on proactive enforcement efforts. The department is also working on outsourcing traffic accident management to a third party, allowing NOPD to better allocate its resources to DWI enforcement.

Holding impaired drivers accountable is essential

As the NOPD works to improve public safety and reduce the number of preventable alcohol-related accidents on our roads, it is equally important to hold impaired drivers accountable for their actions through the civil justice system. This sends a strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated on our roads and is a powerful deterrent against future incidents.

If you were injured or a loved one died in a crash caused by an impaired driver in New Orleans, an attorney can help you seek compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other accident-related damages. However, navigating the legal system can be complex, and crash victims often find the process of recovering financial compensation daunting. In these cases, having an experienced car accident lawyer on your side to protect your rights and aggressively advocate for your best interests can make all the difference.

At the Law Offices of John S. Williams, LLC, we are dedicated to making impaired drivers answer for their negligence and fighting for the compensation our clients deserve. To see how an experienced New Orleans car accident attorney can help you, contact us today for a free consultation.

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