DURHAM, N.C. — Hispanics roughly make up 5 percent of the population in North Carolina, but officials said they account for 8 percent of car crash fatalities, of which many of the accidents involve alcohol. Activists in the Triangle are trying to educate them about the dangers of drinking and driving.
These days, Demetrio Castillo gets around town on foot. He has twice been convicted of driving while intoxicated and as a result, he lost his license.
"I don't drink anymore because it causes a lot of problems," he said.
Castillo said the problem is a basic one.
"A lot of the people don't understand the rules here," he said.
"As the Latino population grows, so does the problem of drinking and driving," said Paul Savery, who is part of the grassroots organization, the Durham Coalition for the Prevention of Drinking and Driving in the Latino Community.
Savery said the group believes the key to reducing DWIs among Hispanics is education.
"Latinos are not familiar with basic concepts like blood alcohol content, like having a designated driver and so forth," he said.
"It's important for us to get the message across in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner," activist Angelina Schiavone said.
The coalition is going door-to-door with brochures printed in Spanish. Public service announcements are also hitting the airwaves. Recent numbers suggest the efforts may be paying off.
The latest numbers from the Governor's Highway Safety Program show a decline in the number of alcohol-related crashes with Latinos behind the wheel. In 2000, 9 percent of all accidents involving Hispanics involved alcohol. In 2001, the number dropped to 8.5 percent. In 2002, it dropped even lower to 8.3 percent.
In addition to the federally funded program being tested in Durham, law enforcement agencies across the Triangle continue to try and combat the problem by recruiting bilingual officers.