Oklahoma ranks second, only behind Mississippi, as the state with the least responsible alcohol consumption, according to a new study. The distinction comes from the state's high rates of alcohol-related driving deaths.
The website Buzzfeed compiled data on drinking and alcohol-related driving deaths. It found that, although Oklahoma and other states have residents who drink less per capita, these states see more deadly alcohol-related traffic incidents.
"We tend to forget that year in and year out about 35 percent of all the crashes in Oklahoma are alcohol related," Chuck Mai, spokesperson for AAA Oklahoma said. "This is an extraordinary number. For the year 2011, 244 Oklahomans were killed in alcohol-related crashes. The total is only 696. So fully 35 percent of all those fatalities were due to alcohol."
The latest numbers available from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office are from 2011. The number of deaths that year was the third highest in the past 15. At the same time, Mai said the number of alcohol-related traffic injuries is decreasing. The OHSO also shows a decrease in the overall number of alcohol-related crashes from 2010 to 2011.
The Buzzfeed study offers no insight into drunk driving trends among the states. Mai has one guess.
"One thing I think is so much emphasis these days is being put on distracted driving, cell phone use and texting and all the distractions behind the wheel, but maybe alcohol is not being given the proper attention is needs," Mai said.
AAA Oklahoma provides education on the dangers and offers its Tipsy Tow service during the holidays to try to prevent drunk driving.
Victims' Impact Panel of Oklahoma is another organization that aims to cut down on drunk driving deaths.
"Most people don't get in their car after drinking with the intent of killing somebody, but it's what happens and most people think it's not going to happen to me," VIP director Janella Tears said.
VIP is a statewide program that reaches out to an average of 800 DUI offenders a month. Drunk driving victims, survivors, and rescue professionals share their stories with offenders. Tears said it allows outreach that touches the heart and hopefully makes a difference.
"All we can do is just keep doing our best to stop it," Tears said.
The top five states with the most responsible drinkers are New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Alaska and Minnesota.