On May 14, 1988, near Carrollton, Kentucky, a school bus filled with children and their adult chaperons was returning from a church outing. Larry Mahoney, driving drunk and the wrong way, slammed in to their bus, and it burst into flames. In all, 24 children and 3 adults perished in that wreck, with numerous others suffering terrible fire-related injuries.
The NTSB calls the wreck the most influential in history, as it not only put a glaring spotlight on drunk driving, it also spawned substantial changes in the safety features and design of school buses.
The Louisville Courier-Journal published a series of articles this week covering the crash, its aftermath, and the victims today. At a memorial service this evening, many survivors and family members of the deceased will gather in remembrance and will view Impact: After the Crash, a newly released documentary about the events 25 years ago in Carrollton.
Mahoney ultimately served ten years of a 16-year prison sentence for the accident.
In 1988, 27,253 people were killed in drunk driving accidents. In 2011, that number was reduced to 9,878. That’s a 64% decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities each year. Public awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, tougher enforcement and penalties, better treatment options for those struggling with substance abuse, and even improved vehicle safety are all contributors this extraordinary drop.
But 9,878 deaths is still much too high of a number, and it doesn’t paint the whole picture: Those injured in accidents, and the families, friends, and communities effected by those who repeatedly drink and drive. The effect of these drunk driving fatalities on families and communities is the same today as it was in 1988.
To coincide with the anniversary, today the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced a slate of new recommendations that include a reduction in the benchmark for determining when a driver is legally drunk, from 0.08 BAC to 0.05 BAC. The NTSB believes lowering the rate would save 500 to 800 additional lives every year.
On a day of reflection for the people in Carrollton, Kentucky, that undoubtedly means a lot.