WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Transportation on Aug. 25 kicked off the annual "Drunk Driving -- Over the Limit, Under Arrest" campaign aimed at getting drunk drivers off the road.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also released new data indicating that 8 percent of all drivers -- as many as 17 million people -- have driven drunk at least once during the past year.
The law enforcement crackdown will run through Labor Day and involve thousands of police agencies from across the nation. Enforcement efforts are supported by $13 million in television and radio advertising from NHTSA.
"Drunk driving is deadly, it's against the law, and unfortunately, it's still a problem," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "With the help of law enforcement around the country, we are going to continue doing all that we can to stop drunk driving and the needless tragedies that result from this reckless behavior."
NHTSA's research revealed that about one in five Americans has driven within two hours of drinking alcohol in the past year. Four out of five Americans identified drunk driving as a "major threat" to their own and their family's safety.
The survey noted that those who reported that they drink and drive consumed alcohol more regularly than individuals who drink but choose not to drive afterwards. More than one in four drinking drivers, 28 percent, consumed alcoholic beverages three or more days a week, compared to 10 percent of drivers who drink but do not drive afterwards.
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said: "Our message is loud and clear. If you drive drunk you will be arrested and prosecuted. There will be no exceptions and no excuses. And if you're below the age of 21, there is zero tolerance for any alcohol in your system whatsoever. That's why we're out there with law enforcement, tackling this major safety issue head on."
Strickland noted that the study revealed a particularly concerning rate of drinking and driving behavior among young drivers, especially young male drivers. Few 16- to 20-year-old respondents admitted to driving after drinking in the survey, but those that did admit to drinking said they drank almost six alcohol beverages at one sitting. While this admission in the survey was inclusive of all drinking occasions, and not just drinking and driving, it does suggest that when young people decide to combine the two, they are drinking more heavily.
Personal drinking behavior can also lead to an increased likelihood of riding with impaired, unsafe drivers. According to the survey, 8 percent of the population 16 and older rode in the past year with a driver they thought may have consumed too much alcohol to drive safely.
The latest survey was administered in 2008 by telephone to 6,999 respondents 16 years and older, and over-sampled teenagers and young adults 16-24 years of age. The survey is conducted on a periodic basis to monitor the public's attitudes, knowledge and self-reported behavior regarding drinking and driving.