DUI-related deaths on the rise in Hillsborough County

County sees rising DUI-related deaths while neighboring counties record declines

It appears as though Hillsborough County has a significant problem with drunken driving compared with other counties in the Tampa Bay area. According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DUI-related deaths are higher in Hillsborough County than in surrounding counties and also exceed statewide averages. The fatality rate has been growing at an alarming rate in recent years, although authorities have been unable to explain the reasons behind the increase. Safety advocates, however, say that one of the ways to bring down DUI-related fatalities would be an expansion of the state's ignition interlock laws.

Fatalities up 60 percent

Between 2009 and 2013, DUI-related fatalities rose 60 percent in Hillsborough County, from 36 deaths in 2009 to 57 in 2013. In the Tampa Bay area, Polk County was the only other region to see an increase in fatalities, although at a much lower rate (about 18 percent) compared to Hillsborough County. Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando Counties all saw DUI-related deaths drop, while the fatality rate remained unchanged in Manatee County.

Authorities are having trouble explaining the rapid increase. While the presence of two large universities and a number of nightlife areas account for many of the drunk driving problems, authorities note that such areas have been around for much longer than the recent rise in fatalities. Police enforcement against drunk driving has also increased, yet it seems to have done little to bring down the DUI-related fatality rate.

Ignition interlock laws

One way of combating the high fatality rate could be an expansion of Florida's ignition interlock laws. While Florida requires repeat DUI offenders to install the devices, they are not mandated for first-time offenders. Florida is one of 24 states that does not currently require the devices for first offenses. Ignition interlocks are in-car breathalyzer devices that disable a vehicle from starting if the driver blows a high blood-alcohol reading.

A major problem, however, is that a recent study, according to the Tampa Tribune, shows that half of drivers in Florida who are ordered to have the interlock devices installed fail to do so. In most cases, the drivers simply cannot afford to install the devices. While drivers who do not install the devices are still prohibited from driving due to their licenses being suspended, experts note that license suspensions are far less effective at actually preventing drunken driving than ignition interlock devices.

Injured by a drunk driver?

Every accident caused by drunk driving is entirely preventable, yet as the above story shows far too many drivers fail to take the safety of both themselves and other motorists into consideration when they get behind the wheel. A drunk driving accident is never really an accident, but rather the result of a driver's reckless and irresponsible decisions.

Anybody who has been injured by a drunk driver should reach out to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. With a dedicated advocate on their side, victims of allegedly drunk drivers will have the representation they need following the devastating impact of motor vehicle accident.