Deaths due to drunken-driving accidents in 2006, up from 322 the year before. However, Hampton Roads deaths went down from 32 in 2005 to 22 in 2006.
For city-by-city breakdown, see Page 5. By Jen McCaffery
Virginia police officers will be out in force looking to nab drunken drivers this Labor Day weekend, the third-most-deadly holiday for alcohol-related deaths.
The annual Checkpoint Strikeforce efforts are happening as state statistics show that for the first time in several years, the percentage of people killed by drunken drivers in Virginia has increased.
In 2005, there were 322 deaths in alcohol-related accidents, compared with 374 deaths in 2006, according to figures from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. However, in most South Hampton Roads cities, the number of fatalities from alcohol-related accidents during the same time period decreased, DMV statistics show.
Twenty-two people died locally in 2006, compared with 32 in 2005.
“Perhaps our friends in Hampton Roads are just listening a little better,” Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said.
McDonnell, a former Virginia Beach legislator, helped implement a package of new laws that reformed the state’s DUI restrictions in 2004 .
They include harsher punishments for repeat offenders and mandatory jail time for some drunken-driving offenses.
According to the DMV report, Virginia Beach was the only city that recorded a significant increase in the number of fatalities from alcohol-related crashes .
Last year, Virginia Beach had 15 fatalities connected to people driving under the influence of alcohol.
In 2005, there were 10 deaths , DMV statistics show.
“We’ve come a long way, but the increasing number shows that impaired driving is a serious and high priority for both MADD and law enforcement,” said Mike Goodove , president of the Southside chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving .
The resort city’s DUI statistics don’t reflect the work of the Virginia Beach Police Department, which Goodove described as a model for the nation when it comes to impaired driving enforcement.
Virginia Beach police make about 10 percent of all DUI arrests in the state , said Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who used to work for the department.
In 2005 and 2006 , the department, which has two units dedicated to DUI enforcement, averaged about 2,000 arrests , spokesman Adam Bernstein said.
“The Virginia Beach Police Department does a great job of enforcement, but they can’t be everywhere,” Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Bryant said.
He estimated that for every driver who is arrested on charges of driving under the influence, another 25 to 35 are on the street driving drunk.
McDonnell said he doesn’t believe that the state’s recent uptick in the percentage of fatalities statewide will become a long-term trend.
Over the past five years, the number of injuries related to people driving under the influence has decreased, he said.
Stolle, who notified next-of-kin about DUI-related deaths when he worked for the Virginia Beach Police Department’s fatality team, said it’s too soon to tell whether the numbers in South Hampton Roads reflect the impact of the new legislation.
“I would hope what you’re seeing is the beginning of a downward trend,” he said.