Drunken driving motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death and injury to people in the United States. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people 16 to 24 years of age, and a substantial percentage are alcohol-related crashes. There were 17,419 alcohol-related automobile deaths in 2002, representing one alcohol-related motor vehicle death every 30 minutes. Part of the reason for these statistics is that arrests have been made in only 1% of the 120 million self-reported episodes of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). Younger people are more likely than older people to be involved in alcohol-related crashes. In fact, one fourth of the motor vehicle deaths among 15to 20-year-olds were alcohol related. Furthermore, approximately 66% of children under 15 who died in alcohol-related motor vehicle deaths between 1985 and 1996 were passengers of an impaired driver. In addition to the costs of drunken driving measured in human lives, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that alcohol-related crashes in 2000 were associated with more than $51 billion in total costs.
A major determinant of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes is the age at which a person started drinking. Researchers have shown that people who began drinking alcohol at an earlier age were more likely to report driving after drinking too much and being in a motor vehicle crash because of their drinking even after adjusting for current/ever diagnosis of alcohol dependence and number of years the person had been drinking. Education and interventions geared toward delaying alcohol use among young people may be an effective means of reducing drunken driving crashes and deaths. There are additional effective measures to reduce drunken driving in the United States. Among these preventative measures are license suspension of drivers arrested for DUI, lowering the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit to 0.08% in all states, zero tolerance for drivers less than 21 years of age, and sobriety checkpoints. There are also policy level interventions, including increasing federal and state alcohol excise taxes and treatment approaches such as multifaceted community alcohol control and DUI prevention programs. Research has also shown that people who participate in a driver intervention program after a DUI arrest were less likely to be charged again with an alcohol-related driving offense or to be the driver in an alcohol-related crash than a similar group who were jailed.
Consistent law enforcement of DUI laws, national reduction of the permissible BAC to 0.08%, and zero tolerance for underage drinkers appear to the most effective means. For long-term, effective behavioral change, it is also necessary to change social norms of drunken driving so that there is zero social tolerance of drunken driving.
- Blincoe, , Seay, A., Zaloshnja, E., Miller, T., Romano, E., Luchter, S., et al. (2002). The economic impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2000. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/economic/econimpact2000/index.htm
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2002). Involvement of young drivers in fatal alcohol-related motor-vehicle crashes—United States, 1982–2001. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 51, 1089–1091.
- Dellinger, M., Bolen, J., & Sacks, J. J. (1999). A comparison of driver and passenger-based estimates of alcoholimpaired driving. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,16(4), 283–288.
- Hingson, , Heeren, T., Levenson, S., Jamanka, A., & Voas, R. (2002). Age of drinking onset, driving after drinking, and involvement in alcohol related motor-vehicle crashes. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 34(1), 85–92.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), http://www.madd.org/home/
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, S.Department of Transportation. (2003). Traffic safety facts 2002: Alcohol. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pdf/nrd-30/NCSA/TSF2002/2002alcfacts.pdf
- Socie, M., Wagner, S. A., & Hopkins, R. S. (1994). The relative effectiveness of sanctions applied to first-time drunken driving offenders. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 10(2), 85–90.
- Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), http://www.saddonline.com/