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Posted: 6:31 AM- ARLINGTON, Va. - Drunken driving fatalities increased in 22 states in 2006 and fell in 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Federal transportation officials say tha among the states, Arizona, Kansas and Texas had the greatest increases in number of drunken driving deaths last year. But Utah, Kansas and Iowa had the largest percentage increases compared with 2005.
There were 33 drunken driving deaths in Utah in 2005, according to NHTSA data. That number jumped by 21 to 54 deaths in 2006, representing a 63.6 percent increase.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data showing there were 13,470 deaths in 2006 involving drivers and motorcycle operators with blood alcohol levels of .08 or higher, which is the legal limit for adults throughout the country. The number was down slightly from 2005, when 13,582 people died in crashes involving drivers who were above the legal limit.
The overall number of deaths involving drivers and motorcycle operators with any amount of alcohol in their blood was 17,602 last year. That was up from 17,590 in 2005, according to spokeswoman Heather Ann Hopkins.
"The number of people who died on the nation's roads actually fell last year," U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said at a news conference in this Washington suburb. "However the trend did not extend to alcohol-related crashes."
Transportation officials announced the new figures as they unveiled a $11 million nationwide advertising campaign as part of a Labor Day weekend campaign "Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest."
"This crackdown is very, very, very important because it's the penalties that are imposed when someone chooses to ignore the law that really have the ability to make changes," Peters said.
Because Utah has a low number of fatal DUI crashes each year compared with larger states, the percentages tend to jump significantly even when there is only a small increase in actual deaths, said UHP spokesman Preston Raban.
In Utah, the Highway Patrol reported a preliminary number of fatal DUI crashes at around 55 or 56 so far in 2007, Raban said. Those numbers reflect an increase of about 13 more fatalities this year than during same time last year.
Texas had the largest actual number drunken driving deaths in 2006 with a total of 1,354.
Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania had the greatest decreases in numbers of drunken driving deaths last year, while the District of Columbia, Alaska and Delaware had the largest percentage decreases compared with 2005. The District of Columbia had the smallest actual number of drunken driving deaths with a total of 12.
-- Tribune reporter Jason Bergreen contributed to this story