Alcohol is becoming a bigger factor in traffic fatalities in Idaho, and state police say more troopers are urgently needed.
Drunken driving was blamed for 85 deaths in Idaho last year, an 18.1 percent increase from 1992 when 72 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents, according to state figures.And with the holiday season just starting, police are bracing for the annual influx of motorists who drink and drive.
Nationwide, Idaho has the worst record in the ratio of traffic deaths related to alcohol from 1982-93.
During that 11-year period, all but two states showed a decline in the ratio of deaths attributed to alcohol. Idaho had the largest gain in that category: plus 5.7 percent, according to statistics released last week by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Capt. Ralph Powell, District 1 commander for the Idaho State Police in Coeur d'Alene, said controlling the woeful statistics will be difficult if not impossible without more troopers on the roads.
"I'm confident that if they (legislators) gave us the manpower, then the statistics wouldn't be the same," Powell said.
The Idaho State Police in North Idaho has fought the same losing battle for more officers as the rest of the state. District 1 has 27 troopers patrolling five counties. Overall, that is one fewer officer than it had 20 year ago.
Statewide, the state police had 188 sworn officers in 1978 and 189 last year.