The state had 264 fatal crashes in 2010 that involved drinking, compared with 419 in 2001. That’s a 37-percent drop.
Several factors are behind the trend, according to Lynn Sutfin of the state police Office of Highway Safety Planning.
“It’s not one particular thing,” Sutfin told The Detroit News for a story Monday. “It’s a combination of things. Some of it is due to a decrease in overall crash fatalities, some of it is due to people making smarter decisions. Vehicles have better safety features and the roadways have improved.”
Crashes of all kinds killed 937 people in Michigan in 2010, down 29 percent from 1,328 in 2001, according to a state police report in May. Total crashes dropped 30 percent, from 400,813 to 282,075.
The state figures reflect a broader trend.
Nationally, deaths in crashes involving drunken drivers dropped 4.9 percent from 2009 to 2010, the National Highway Safety Administration reported this month. It said there were 10,228 drunken driving deaths in 2010, down from 10,759 in 2009.
While drunken driving crashes and deaths have been heading down overall, this season usually sees a jump.
“The number of drunken driving incidents always spikes around holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July,” Sutfin said. “There are more people on the road and people are celebrating.”
Police have been making fewer drunken driving arrests in Michigan, whether because of more responsible motorists or fewer officers on the street. Statewide, there were 41,883 drunken driving arrests in 2010, down 28 percent from 58,562 in 2001.
Michigan defines drunkenness as a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. A new “super drunk” law that took effect in October sets harsher penalties for those with a blood alcohol level of 0.17 percent or more.
One expert credits greater awareness of the penalties for drunken driving with causing many people to change their habits.
“Losing your license or getting a restriction on it for 90 days, and having it on your record for the rest of your life — all of it makes an impression and could impact your livelihood,” said Gail Peterson, executive director of the Traffic Safety Association of Macomb County.