Hispanic drivers involved in motor vehicle crashes are more likely to be intoxicated than members of other ethnic and racial groups
The study by the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill was based on information from law enforcement agencies. It states that 7.04 percent of Hispanic drivers involved in crashes in 2005 were intoxicated, compared with 4.87 percent of Native Americans, 2.82 percent of whites and 2.28 percent of blacks.
Hispanics "are more likely on average to be suspected of drinking in crashes that police officers investigate," research center database specialist Eric Rodgman said.
Cultural differences and limited knowledge of U.S. laws might be driving the trend, law enforcement officials and community leaders said. Efforts are being made to develop education programs in the wake of recent high-profile fatal crashes.
The numbers encompass the entire Hispanic community, and officials say it is important to convey the message of responsible driving to all Spanish-speaking residents in North Carolina, regardless of their legal status and education level.
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all Hispanics living in North Carolina. Many come from countries where enforcement of drinking and driving laws is lax. Cultural differences must be bridged for any initiative to be effective, said Rex Gore, district attorney of Brunswick, Bladen and Columbus counties.
"The problem can be addressed through an educational campaign and community efforts to make everybody in the immigrant community aware that unacceptable behavior includes drinking and driving. It's not a macho thing. It's against the law," Gore said.
Southeastern North Carolina has no organized program to inform recent arrivals about the dangers of drunken driving. That could change by later this year, said Lucy Vasquez, executive director of Amigos Internacional, a Hispanic outreach organization.
"They're just not aware of the laws that exist here. It's a big problem," she said. "There is no newcomer program, but it is something we are working on."
A committee expected to include drug and alcohol counselors and representatives of local churches, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Alcoholics Anonymous should hold a planning meeting in August or September, Vasquez said.
Vasquez said the majority of Hispanic DWI offenders are young, male, single and often without an authority figure to provide guidance.
"There's a disconnect with the family unit and the social structure in this country. I think it's a combination of things, including the depression that exists from not being with their families," she said.
A number of highly publicized DWI crashes recently have drawn negative attention to the Hispanic community, Vasquez said.
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