Big Island aims to prevent drunk driving during holiday season

Dr. Sharon Vitousek
Dr. Sharon Vitousek
Chief Harry Kubojiri
Chief Harry Kubojiri
Mayor Billy Kenoi
Mayor Billy Kenoi
Cynthia Honma
Cynthia Honma

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Drunk driving is a year round problem, but gets worse during the holidays because of all the parties and celebrations.

No where in Hawaii is it a bigger issue than on the Big Island.

The Big Island has long stretches of undivided highway, winding rural roads and when there's an accident, it can be a long way to the hospital.

"The traffic data is very clear. The data shows that we have a big problem on the Big Island with traffic safety," North Hawaii Outcomes Project's Dr. Sharon Vitousek said.

How bad is it?

Well, according to a group called the North Hawaii Outcomes Project, the death rate from crashes on the Big Island is three times higher than it is on Oahu.

"About every eight plus days on the Big Island on average someone dies from a traffic crash. That's too many. About every other day someone is admitted as an in patient to the hospital," Vitousek said.

In the five year span from 2005 through 2009, 343 people were killed in crashes on the Big Island.

And so far this year 27 people have been killed.

"If we look at the data more carefully, more than half of those deaths are related to alcohol and 100 percent of those deaths are preventable. All of them are preventable. So we could drop our death rate in half if we could prevent drunk driving," Vitousek said.

Advocates in the effort to stop drunk driving say Big Island police are doing a better job year by year of enforcement.

During the five year period, again from 2005 to 2009, we have a total of 6,567 DUI arrests. One is alarming, but to have 6,567 is just outrageous.

"So that's the data, but this is the real problem. This is the faces. This is the innocent victims. That's a family. That's friends. That's friends of friends," Vitousek said.

In hope of a safe holiday season the county is sponsoring a shared taxi ride program.

Coupons for free rides are available at participating bars and restaurants.

All patrons have to do is ask.

"There's no shame in saying that I'm impaired and I can't drive home," Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Cynthia Honma said.

"Hey, maybe this year, maybe this holiday season every family gets to hug and kiss everybody else in their family. And we don't have any funerals and it is really a season of joyous celebration," Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi said.

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