By Adam Sulfridge
Special to the Times-Tribune
Kentucky State Police records show an interesting trend in the number of alcohol-related vehicle crashes in the area — dry counties generally have higher rates of DUI-related crashes than their “moist” neighbors.
Records from 1995 to 2010 show the percentage of crashes involving drivers under the influence of alcohol decreased in Knox, McCreary and Whitley counties. In Laurel County, the number of alcohol-related wrecks fluctuated during that period, but dramatically decreased in 2009 and 2010.
Compared to its moist neighbors, Knox County, where no alcohol is legally sold, showed a lower percentage of alcohol-related crashes for four years between 2000 and 2010. Statistics also show the percentage of alcohol-related crashes in Knox County declined in the years after alcohol could be purchased in Corbin and London restaurants.
For all but one year between 2000 and 2010, McCreary County, also dry, reported a higher percentage of alcohol-related crashes than moist Laurel and Whitley counties. Even after Laurel and Whitley counties allowed alcohol in restaurants, McCreary’s rate of alcohol-related crashes were sometimes twice as high as Laurel’s and Whitley’s.
KSP collects data on all crashes, with reports broken down by county and by causation factors. Collision reports were analyzed instead of arrest statistics because arrests are dependent upon enforcement efforts and do not account for officer discretion.
According to the analysis, the percentage of alcohol-related crashes in Whitley County increased in 2004, after Corbin voters approved the sale of alcohol in restaurants. However, the percentage of alcohol-related crashes in Whitley County significantly decreased after 2004 and has remained lower than before Corbin went moist.
Records for Laurel County show a similar trend, with alcohol-related crashes slightly increasing in 2005, when London began selling alcohol in restaurants.
As of 2010, Laurel County’s percentage of alcohol-related crashes dropped to levels lower than those for some years before the county went moist.
London Police Chief Stewart Walker said he believes law enforcement efforts have curtailed rates of drunk driving.
“We saw a slight increase after London went moist, but the numbers were not staggering,” he said. “Our DUI rates likely increased because we knew what time the restaurants closed, we knew where the establishments were, and we patrolled that time and those areas heavier.
“We put our best foot forward, and we feel that is a factor in the overall decreases in alcohol-related collisions.”
Supporters of alcohol sales have often referred to unnamed reports stating Kentucky’s dry counties have fewer alcohol-related crashes than wet or moist counties. The Times-Tribune tracked down a 2002 report conducted by several college professors titled “Accident Analysis & Prevention.” The report confirms the argument and what local statistics reveal. It states, “Analysis of crash data revealed a similar proportion of crashes in wet and dry counties are alcohol-related but that a higher proportion of dry counties residents are involved in an alcohol-related crash.”
KSP Lt. David Jude and Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird agreed it is not surprising that dry counties have more alcohol-related wrecks.
“An argument we hear is that people can drink closer to home and so they make it home without incident, whereas in dry counties people must travel farther after drinking,” Jude said.
Bird said, “I absolutely believe cities which are wet have fewer alcohol DUIs than cities which are not.”
On Jan. 23, anti-alcohol groups met at the Cumberland Inn in Williamsburg. Donald Cole, executive director of the Kentucky League on Alcohol and Gambling Problems, rallied the crowd to fight against alcohol sales. When asked his thoughts about the percent of alcohol-related crashes decreasing in Whitley County after Corbin went moist, Cole said, “I’ve heard of that happening.”
Cole said he believes crash statistics sometimes do not reflect the actual number of DUIs in a county.
“I’m not accusing anybody of wrongdoing,” Cole explained, “but they won’t list it as a DUI, they’ll list it as improper equipment. They don’t always put drinking involved in it.” Cole added, “I’m just telling you that. You can’t prove it.”
Williamsburg voters will decide on March 20 whether to allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants. A similar measure in Williamsburg was voted down in 2006 by a vote of 790 to 577. On Feb. 7, Barbourville voters rejected a measure to make the city wet. Corbin voted Feb. 14 to allow the sale of liquor and wine in state-certified stores, and the sale of beer in any gas station or market. On March 6, London rejected a measure similar to Corbin’s.
According to statistics from the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, the Williamsburg group “Citizens against the Sale of Alcohol” spent $11,640 in 2006 defeating the alcohol measure. As of March 5, a Williamsburg group by the same name had raised $7,288.
When asked about the outpouring of support in Williamsburg to defeat the alcohol measure, Bird said, “I respect everybody’s opinion, but I wish they would stand with their local law enforcement when our DUI cases get continued for years and then dismissed.”
Last August, the Times-Tribune compared the handling of DUI cases in Laurel, Knox and Whitley counties. That analysis showed the number of DUI cases stalled in Whitley County District Court greatly outnumbered the number of DUI cases stalled in Laurel and Knox county district courts.
While alcohol-related crashes are trending downward, between 1995 and 2010, the number of crashes involving a driver under the influence of drugs has increased in Laurel, Knox and Whitley counties. In 2010, McCreary County reported three fewer drug-related crashes than in 1995. Whitley County’s percentage of drug-related crashes in 2010 were 10 times higher than in 1995. Knox County’s percentage of drug-related crashes in 2010 were seven times higher than in 1995.
In 1995, Whitley County reported only three drug-related crashes. In 2000, that number reached 18, and in 2010 the county reported 35 drug-related crashes. In 1995, Knox County also reported three drug-related crashes. In 2000, 29, and in 2010, the county reported 22 drug-related crashes.
In 2010, Laurel County reported 29 drug-related crashes, up from 15 reported in 1995. McCreary County reported seven drug-related crashes in 2010, which is three fewer than reported in 1995.
“I’m not saying alcohol isn’t a factor in some wrecks, but it’s not our problem,” Bird said. “Whitley County’s DUIs are related to drug use. Almost every complaint, and every DUI wreck, involves prescription pills, not alcohol.”
Chief Walker in London expressed similar thoughts. “What we have seen an increase in is drugs. Meth is bad, and the big thing is prescription medication… area pain clinics and people doctor shopping in Florida and different places.”