Wyoming second for drunk driving fatalities

SHERIDAN — Wyoming is one of the four most dangerous states in the U.S. based on drunken driving prominence, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Montana is ranked at the top for the most drunken driving issues statewide based on arrests, prevalence and fatalities, followed by South Dakota and North Dakota. Wyoming ranked fourth for drunken driving issues but had the second highest fatality rate in the U.S. with nearly six deaths per 100,000 people. Of Wyoming’s half a million residents, about 0.6% were arrested for DUIs last year.

The Mountain West displays high rates of overall alcohol consumption according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, with Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota ranked at the top. However, the report showed that high rates of alcohol consumption don’t always accompany high rates of DUI arrests and fatal accidents.

New Hampshire displayed the highest rate of alcohol consumption but ranked 20th for drunken driving. Washington, D.C., showed the second highest rate of alcohol consumption but is in the top three safest states based on drunken driving statistics.

According to the report, compiled by the insurance comparison website The Zebra, many alcohol-related incidents go unreported. Alcohol-related crashes have decreased nationally but about one-third of fatal traffic incidents still involve a drunken driver, according to the CDC.

Despite a small population, slightly more Wyoming residents report driving after drinking too much than the national average, according to the CDC. Sheridan County is not immune to the statewide prevalence of driving under the influence, according to local law enforcement. Between July 2017 and June 2018, Sheridan County Circuit Court saw 309 DUI cases.

Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said December is the busiest of the winter months for DUIs, but not as busy as the summer months, based on total cases. The SCSO dealt with 55 DUI cases this year to date, down from 61 in 2018, Thompson said.

Sheridan Police Department Lt. Travis Koltiska said the SPD is continuously attempting to educate the public about the importance of establishing alternate ways of getting home after indulging.

There are plenty of options — like SafeRides — that provide a safer means of road travel after drinking, but the education efforts will require public cooperation to be effective, Koltiska said.

The SPD encourages Sheridan residents to plan ahead in anticipation of indulging in alcohol or other substances that could lead to unsafe driving. There has been a 15% increase in DUI arrests by SPD this year through November compared to the 2016-2018 average — totaling 214 arrests, Koltiska said.

The Wyoming Legislature is preparing to discuss some of the issues associated with drunken driving across the state, including a bill on the schedule for February pertaining to limiting driving privileges after a DUI conviction. The proposed bill, labeled Senate File 5, is sponsored by the Joint Transportation Committee and the Highways and Military Affairs Interim Committee.

The bill would extend the timeline during which a person can be denied or limited in their driving privileges after a DUI conviction from within five years to within 10 years of the last conviction. The bill would also address regulations for removing ignition interlock restricted licenses when appropriate.