WASHINGTON — The upper Midwest has the worst drunken-driving rates in the country, according to a government report that says 15 percent of adult drivers nationally report driving under the influence of alcohol in the previous year.
Wisconsin leads the way. The federal government estimates more than a quarter of the state's adult drivers had driven under the influence. Rounding out the worst five are North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Utah had the lowest incidence of drunken driving. It was the only state where fewer than 10 percent of adult motorists reported driving under the influence. Following closely behind were a slew of Southern states that often fare poorly when it comes to government health statistics. This time, however, they're serving as models. West Virginia, Arkansas, Kentucky and North Carolina all had drunken-driving rates for the prior year of less than 11 percent.
The report on drunken driving relies on data obtained from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey asked 127,283 adults in 2004, 2005 and 2006 whether they had driven under the influence in the past year.
Heaviest consumption in North
Health experts say the state-by-state breakdowns support other surveys showing that residents in northern states are more likely to engage in heavy alcohol consumption.
"It's not surprising, but it means that these jurisdictions should take this data and think about how they approach public education campaigns and enforcement campaigns,'' said Dr. H.Westley Clark of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Clark said states with the lowest rates for driving under the influence shouldn't take comfort in the data.
"Even in Utah, which reported the nation's lowest rate, nearly one in 10 drivers report driving under the influence of alcohol within the past year,'' Clark said. "So, even in states that have low consumption rates or low DUI rates, they too need to reflect on the approach they're taking. We don't want people to lull themselves into a false sense of security.''
It's illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher.
In the past decade, the number of impaired drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes has remained relatively stable — from 12,348 in 1996 to 12,491 in 2006. Those figures cover drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher.
The federal government also released estimates of driving under the influence of illicit drugs. The rates were highest in the District of Columbia, 7 percent; Rhode Island, 6.8 percent; and Massachusetts, 6.4 percent.
The states with the lowest rates for driving under the influence of illicit drugs within the past year were New Jersey, 3.2 percent; Alabama, 3.4 percent; and North Dakota and South Dakota, 3.5 percent.
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