CASPER, Wyo. — Drugs and alcohol helped fuel a 14 percent increase in traffic deaths on Wyoming roads in 2010, new statistics show.
Impaired driving played a role in 45 percent of the state's 153 traffic deaths last year, according to preliminary figures released on Monday by the state Department of Transportation.
Drugs and alcohol contributed to more than one-third of highway fatalities in 2009.
Those deaths are totally avoidable, said Sgt. Duane Ellis, safety education coordinator for the Wyoming Highway Patrol.
“Is it worth it for them to get wherever they are going after consuming alcohol?” he asked.
“A lot of people have the philosophy that it hurts only them if they are killed in a crash. The decisions we make behind the wheel affects not only the driver, but everyone the driver knows.”
Hoping to crack down on repeat drunken drivers, lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it a crime to refuse a blood-alcohol test.
The legislation has already received House approval and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
Transportation officials also linked the jump in traffic deaths to a 138 percent increase in fatal motorcycle crashes in 2010. Thirty-one motorcyclists died on Wyoming roads last year, up from 13 the previous year.
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Investigations noted that rider error caused virtually all of the fatal motorcycle crashes, said Department of Transportation spokesman Dave Kingham.
“But why the riders are making those errors isn't something we can easily identify,” he said.
Alcohol played a role in nearly one-third of fatal motorcycle crashes. Figures suggest that 80 percent of motorcyclists killed were not wearing helmets, while about 30 percent didn't have licenses to operate the bikes, Kingham said.
Overall, half of the people killed on Wyoming roads in 2010 were not wearing seat belts. Wyoming lags behind the rest of the nation in seat belt usage.
Police in Wyoming can't stop drivers for seat belt infractions. Attempts to give law enforcement that power have failed in the Legislature.
Amid the gloomy traffic figures was one positive statistic: The number of young people killed in traffic crashes dropped from 30 in 2009 to 14 last year.
The Highway Patrol and safety officials will examine the new data to assess what changes should be made to improve safety, Ellis said. But, ultimately, drivers are responsible for making good decisions, he stressed.
“It all comes down to each and every driver making better choices behind the wheel,” he said.