Mid-Missouri DWI Crashes Down, Fatalities Not

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COLUMBIA - There's good news and bad news about DWI trends in Mid-Missouri.

Statewide, DWI accidents, injuries, and fatalities are down over the past five years, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol.

But the situation is mixed in Mid-Missouri. The good news is that in the Highway Patrol's Troop F region, which includes 13 counties in Mid-Missouri, DWI accidents and injuries are down. The number of accidents has declined 23%, dropping from 651 in 2008 to 499 in 2012.

But the bad news is fatalities haven't improved. The number of deaths has fluctuated, ranging from 24 to 28 a year over the past five years, according to the Highway Patrol.

It's the same story in Boone County, according to the sheriff's department. DWI deaths have remained fairly constant, and Boone County ties for first in the state with St. Louis County for the highest percentage of DWI fatalities among drivers under 21.

Law enforcement officials are at a loss to explain why deaths haven't gone down in Mid-Missouri, despite the drop in accidents and injuries.

"We're not sure exactly why Troop F DWI's are going down but the fatalities are going up," said Sgt. Paul Reinsch, Public Information and Education Officer for Troop F. He said his department is relying on saturation patrols and check points to try to reduce accidents.

Reinsch and Sgt. Brian Leer of the Boone County Sheriff's Department both point out that drunk drivers' risky behaviors makes them more likely to be killed.

"A drinking involved crash is normally not good in outcome. Normally it's more severe because of the higher speeds and lack of seatbelt use," said Leer.

Clara Perkins, coordinator of the Boone County Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) agrees. "When you mix alcohol and driving people are more of a risk taker. So you have speed; they are not wearing seat belts. So they're involving a lot of different factors but they're just taking more risks. That's why we have the fatalities."

Perkins credits taxi stands in downtown Columbia and the MU Stripes ride program with helping to cut the number of accidents in Boone County. But she said more needs to be done to reach young drivers.

"It comes back to the education," she said. "A lot of the schools have taken away the DARE program due to a lack of funding. So they're not being educated properly. And getting MADD into the schools. We just don't have a lot of the resources to get in there to educate them--and also to educate the parents."

Reinsch of the Highway Patrol does point out there has been a reduction in DWI deaths in the Troop F region so far this year. The number of fatalities is down about 30 percent compared with last year, though it is too soon to know whether this improvement will hold up for the rest of the year.