Drinking and driving kills. And it’s killing more Americans every year.

Traffic fatalities last year were at the highest level since 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. And alcohol was a factor in 42 percent of those deaths, a total of 17,970, a percent more than in 2001.

Alcohol-related traffic fatalities have been steadily increasing since 1999.
When it comes down to who is driving drunk, many times it is habitual drinkers.

In fact, habitual drunk drivers make up about 40 percent of all drunk-driving trips, AAA reported on its Web site. “Unlicensed and habitual drunk drivers are among the greatest safety threats on the nation’s highways,” the auto club warns.

So why don’t drunks wise up to the fact that they aren’t fit to drive?

Steve Sumerel, director of the department of family life and substance abuse at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said intoxicated folks are usually the last to realize they are impaired.

“It is the nature of alcohol intoxication to distort a person’s reality,” Sumerel told EthicsDaily.com. “Their impaired judgment does not recognize their altered reaction times, nor can it reason likely outcomes.”

The Department of Transportation’s report did turn up some positive results.

Traffic deaths to children 7 and under dropped to historic lows last year. In 2002, 980 children 7 and under died in crashes, down from 1,053 in 2001.

Pedestrian deaths also were down. And the overall number of persons injured in crashes declined from an estimated 3,033,000 in 2001 to 2,914,000 in 2002.

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