A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the frequency of alcohol-impaired driving decreased 30 percent from 2006 to 2010, but the rate remained relatively high for young men, binge drinkers, and those that don’t wear a seat belt each time they get in the car.
Drunk-driving crashes cause about one-third of all motor vehicle crash fatalities every year. In 2009, nearly 11,000 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents. The CDC study looked at self-reported behavior in the past 30 days and extrapolated from its data that adults reported drinking and driving 112 million times in 2010, which is the lowest level since 1993. However, 85 percent were reported by binge drinkers and four out of five people who drink and drive are men. Young men, 21 to 34 years old, represent 34 percent of all drunk-driving episodes, even though that demographic group is only 11 percent of the total population. Also, people in the Midwest had a higher drunk driving rate than other parts of the country.
Even though alcohol-related driving fatalities have dropped, the proportion of drunk driving fatalities remains stable at 33 percent compared to all driving-related fatalities. So, what can be done to reduce these deaths? The most important defense against drunk drivers is to buckle up. Evidence shows that seat belts save lives and can reduce injuries and deaths from vehicle crashes by almost 50 percent. Stronger seat belt laws covering all seats can help. States can also strengthen the enforcement of the minimum drinking age laws and those that make it illegal to drive with a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration level or higher. Sobriety check points have been used, but they are infrequent and many are only conducted a few times a year to correspond with the Department of Transportation’s drunk driving campaign “Over the Limit. Under Arrest.”
New measures and technologies will likely need to be introduced to further reduce these deaths. Ignition interlock devices are one way, and we recently reported on a new system, which could detect alcohol levels in drivers with just a touch of the finger in vehicles. A new bill currently in the Senate and House is also looking into ways to reduce drunk-driving deaths through new technology.
These sobering numbers reveal that although traffic fatalities overall is trending downward, intoxicated drivers are putting themselves and others at risk. Technology may help, but drivers and their friends and passengers need to take responsibility for this behavior. Moderation with alcoholic drinks and a willingness to hand keys over to a designated driver can make a real difference.