2012 data shows increase in alcohol driving incidents

OSCEOLA COUNTY — After declines in impaired driving deaths and injuries in the last five years at the state and county levels, new data shows they are on the rise. The Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning recently issued the latest state data from the 2012 Michigan Drunk Driving Audit, which shows increases in alcohol and drug-related crashes, fatalities and injuries. The audit is an annual report issued by the Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center and is a collaborative effort between Michigan State Police and the Michigan Department of State. The five-year window shows an overall decline, with alcohol involvement decreasing more rapidly than drug involvement. The same trend occurred with drivers in Mecosta and Osceola counties, according to data provided by Kim Livingston, prevention coordinator at Ten Sixteen Recovery Network in Big Rapids. “Alcohol is the No. 1 drug we see coming through here,” Livingston said. “Some of what we are seeing in the area is higher blood alcohol count levels along with more amounts of alcohol consumed.” Livingston said it could be because younger drinkers are combining energy drinks and alcohol. “They are drinking more because of all that caffeine and believe they are OK when really they are not,” Livingston said. Even though the combination of energy drinks and alcohol is popular, the increase in higher blood alcohol counts is rare in Mecosta County’s Sobriety Court. “I haven’t seen a trend in higher BAC levels in the Sobriety Court,” said Sobriety Court Coordinator Susan Guernsey. “We don’t see many younger drivers; we see more long-time drinkers in here.” The increases come after dramatic drops in all categories in 2011. Deaths involving alcohol and other drugs have fallen by 9.8 percent during the last five years. Alcohol-involved traffic deaths have decreased by 11.4 percent since 2008, while drug — involved deaths have declined by 3.6 percent. “Although 2012 saw increases in impaired driving deaths and injuries, the overall trend in Michigan is a positive one,” said Col. Kriste Etue, director of the MSP. “Officers in Michigan have been and will continue to make impaired driving enforcement a priority.” Secretary of State Ruth Johnson believes education about driving under the influence needs to continue throughout the state. “While the overall decline in injuries and deaths over the last five years is encouraging, the 2012 report shows we must be vigilant and continue to educate drivers about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs,” Johnson said in a news release. “Law enforcement does an excellent job and our driver education partners are doing everything they can to educate drivers — but it’s going to take all of us working together to save lives and make our roads safe.”