WASHINGTON – Maine was among 19 states that saw an increase in the number of drunken-driving deaths from 2006 to 2007, the federal government reported Thursday.

Sixty-six of Maine’s 188 highway fatalities were alcohol related in 2007 – that’s 14 more than the number of drunk-driving deaths in 2006.

Maine saw the third largest increase in alcohol-related deaths with 27 percent. Alaska had the largest increase with 58 percent, followed by West Virginia with 37 percent.

In addition to Maine, alcohol-impaired deaths increased in North Carolina and South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Meanwhile the total of alcohol-related highway deaths fell in 32 states but alcohol-related fatalities increased among motorcycle riders in half the states.

Nearly 13,000 people were killed in crashes in which the driver had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, the legal limit in the United States, or at higher levels.

But overall, alcohol deaths were down nearly 4 percent compared with 2006, when nearly 13,500 people died on the highway.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said she was disappointed by the increase in deaths involving drunken motorcycle riders. A total of 1,621 motorcyclists were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2007, an increase of 7.5 percent.

Drunken-driving deaths fell in New Hampshire and the state bucked a national increase in alcohol-related motorcycle deaths. Thirty-four people were killed in DWI crashes last year, down from 46 the year earlier.

The number of motorcyclists killed in DWI crashes also went down in the state, from 10 to five.

In Maine, alcohol-impaired motorcycle deaths were down nearly 17 percent. Fatalities went from six to five in the state.

Motorcycle riders have been featured in the government’s $13 million advertising campaign surrounding the Labor Day holiday. Law enforcement agencies are increasing their enforcement against drunken driving during the end of the summer.

Dean Thompson, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, said riders who conduct training courses always stress the dangers involved in drinking alcohol before riding.

The latest data followed calls from dozens of college presidents to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, arguing that the laws lead to binge drinking on campus.

Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Thursday he opposed the administrators’ effort.

“Age 21 drinking laws have been proven time and again effective in preventing deaths and injuries,” Rosenker said. “Repealing them is a terrible idea.”

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