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42 percent of highway deaths involve DUI

BIRMINGHAM – State troopers say drunken drivers have become too much of a norm in Alabama.

Of 1,110 highway deaths last year, 475 — more than 42 percent — were alcohol-related.

Col. Chris Murphy, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety said DUIs are fatalities waiting to happen.

“I hate that the number is that high, but drinking and driving is a dangerous combination. A car becomes a weapon,” Murphy said.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Alabama ranked No. 8 in 2006 among states with the highest number of alcohol-related road deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. The data include drunken pedestrians. The maximum blood-alcohol level under Alabama law is 0.08 grams per deciliter or above.

The average blood-alcohol level of drunken drivers arrested by state troopers is 1.4 to 1.5 with the highest being 2.2. The public safety department has bought nine specialized vans called “BATmobiles” that are equipped to test the alcohol levels of drivers on the side of the road.

Murphy said the vehicles are timesavers because taking a suspected drunken driver for a breath test can cost troopers up to four hours.

“That’s time we don’t have a trooper on the road,” he said.

The vehicles also ensure that troopers accurately capture the driver’s condition while they’re operating a vehicle. Two of the new BATmobiles were used at checkpoints during the Take Back Our Highways blitz last week in which there were 77 DUI arrests as of Thursday.

Most DUI arrests happen between midnight and 4 a.m. But troopers say they see drunken drivers from all walks of life on the roads at all hours of the day.