Columbia Fifth in State for Alcohol Related Crashes

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COLUMBIA - Almost 30 people die from it every day in our country according to the Centers for Disease Control. Drunk driving accounts for one death every 48 minutes in the United States, and last year 213 people died on Missouri roads in alcohol-related crashes.

The Missouri Department of Transportation funds around $1 million each year for sobriety checkpoints. Since 2009, MoDOT has funded 2,410 checkpoints through grant money resulting in 29,196 DWI arrests.

"The sobriety checkpoints serve as a great deterrent for impaired driving and we know that people make the poor choice of drinking alcohol and then trying to drive a vehicle," Highway Safety Program Administrator Bill Whitfield said.

Since 2005, more than 2,000 Missourians have died in drinking related crashes. Data shows Columbia ranked in the top five Missouri cities for these crashes from 2010 to 2012. Boone County also made the top five, ranked with Jackson, St. Louis, Franklin, St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

Chad Burton was 17 when he was hit by a drunk driver on the way home from wrestling practice.

"I was taking my wrestling teammates home from Rock Bridge High School and we were hit by a drunk driver on Rock Quarry Road, head on," Burton said.

Chad wasn't wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition. That was 1992.

"Since I damaged the right side of my brain, it partially paralyzed the left side of my body," Burton said.

He had to relearn everything, from walking to typing, the essentials.

"I can type on a keyboard, do over 30 words a minute without looking. I can drive, I can tie my shoe, double knot it without looking with one hand. So all that, nothing really slows me down," Burton said.

This took time. After lying in a coma for five weeks on life support, Burton spent hours in physical therapy. He now dedicates his time to spreading the word about the importance of safety on the road. Burton is a speaker for Think First! Missouri, an organization that teaches teens about the dangers of reckless driving.

"I would say it's not as scary anymore, but it gives me goosebumps when I teach in front of other people because finding that commonality between the audience I'm speaking to and myself," Burton said. "Because this is a story you want to hear, you don't want to experience."

Burton said he supports checkpoints and encourages drivers to think twice before getting behind the wheel impaired.

"The money people spend at bars and stuff on alcohol, that's just quadruple of what they'd spend on a cab if they called a cab to give them a ride home," he said. "The price you pay for not calling a cab is a lot more than trying to drive and putting your car in a ditch or kill somebody else."

While the number of alcohol related fatalities has gone down in recent years, MoDOT officials say they won't stop funding checkpoints until the number is zero.