Nebraska's Drunken State


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Nebraska's Drunken State

By Craig Nigrelli. CREATED Jan 30, 2014

Omaha, NE - Bob Schmill remembers it like was yesterday : April 24, 2004.  His only son Matt was walking home near 62nd and Maple in Omaha after celebrating his 23rd birthday when a drunk driver hit and killed him. 

Ten years later, it's still happening.  Some would say it's worse than ever.  The most recent figures from the Office of Highway Safety show in 2010, there were 53 alcohol related highway deaths in crashes on Nebraska roads.  In 2011, 51.  Then a huge spike : 87 in 2012, that's a 70 % increase.  State officials say figures for 2013 are not complete yet but the number will be at least 70.   Schmill said, "they're alarming. "

Nebraska Highway Safety Administrator Fred Zwonechek has been fighting the DUI fight for decades. He believes the big problem is repeat drunk drivers who are binge drinkers.  He noted, " we're at risk everyday. "  Zwonechek says the alcohol and soft drink mixtures have become stronger in recent years, potent combinations of booze and caffeine that have led to sky high blood alcohol levels.  In 2011, the average in fatal drunk driving crashes,  .193.  In 2012, .185.  That's more than twice the legal limit.

Both Zwonechek and Schmill agree state laws have become tougher in the last decade, including ignition interlock for first time offenders.  Schmill wants bars held more accountable.

Zwonechek says drunk driving convictions are at an all-time high which shows police and prosecutors are cracking down but much work is left to be done.