Drunk driving a leading cause of fatal South Florida traffic accidents

The Fort Myers News-Press has published a detailed report on drunk driving, as authorities continue to battle a primary cause of South Florida traffic accidents.

State statistics show a high number of DUI arrests in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Lee counties. Statewide, more than 175 DUI arrests are made each day in Florida, and still drunk driving is responsible for nearly half of all Florida traffic fatalities.

Drunk driving accidents are a leading cause of traffic accidents in Florida and across the nation. Victims of South Florida drunk driving accidents should contact an experienced injury attorney right away to discuss their rights. Alcohol was involved in 611 crashes in Lee County last year, leading to 21 fatalities, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. An average of more than 22,000 alcohol-related crashes are reported in Florida each year, causing more than 1,100 deaths.

In 2009, the state reported 2,570 traffic fatalities, meaning alcohol-related traffic fatalities account for nearly half of all fatal crashes in Florida.

-Nearly 10,000 Lee County motorists have been arrested at least twice for drunk driving.

-Almost 400 motorists were charged with their second DUI offense in Lee County in 2009.

-In 2009, two dozen were arrested for drunk or impaired driving twice within the same week.

-Two Lee County motorists were charged last year with their 10th DUI.

The numbers concern safety advocates but the emphasis on treatment over jail time is unlikely to change anytime soon — treatment is less expensive and creating more jail space is unlikely to gain support because of budgetary considerations. Yet a study of 353 DUI defendants by The Century Council, a non-profit, anti-drunk-driving organization, found 80 percent of defendants said more severe sanctions for a first DUI conviction would have prevented a second arrest or conviction.

Florida lawmakers have attempted to combat the problem by raising fines, making probation mandatory, and lowering the requirements for ignition-interlock devices. The devices require a sober driver to complete a breath test before a vehicle will start. The threshold has been lowered from .20 to .15 for drivers convicted of a first-offense DUI. They are required for all drivers convicted of subsequent DUI offenses.

Yet, the number of Florida motorists charged with drunk driving continues to rise, from 64,410 in 2007 to 64,654 in 2008. By South Florida County:

Broward: 5,522
Charlotte: 662
Collier: 1,621
Miami-Dade: 4,886
Palm Beach: 3,072
Lee County: 2,936