Drunk Driving Declines in U.S.

Still, there are about 300,000 incidents a day, and 11,000 traffic deaths annually, CDC says

TUESDAY, Oct. 4, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Despite a 30 percent decline in drunk driving since 2006, drunk drivers still account for almost 11,000 traffic deaths -- one-third of all traffic-related fatalities -- each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drunk driving incidents peaked in 2006, and decreased nearly one-third through 2010, the agency said in a new report.

Still, drunk drivers got behind the wheel about 112 million times in 2010 -- which amounts to about 300,000 incidents a day.

"The bottom line here is that by self-report, which is undoubtedly an underestimate, Americans got behind the wheel 112 million times last year and endangered themselves and others," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a Tuesday news conference.

People need to be more responsible, and communities and governments can do more to protect the public from drunk driving, Freiden added.

The drop in drunk driving might, he said, be due in part to the recession, which could mean more people are drinking at home rather than in bars and restaurants.

"Drunk driving is far too common. This is something that is unacceptable," Frieden said. "It's a public health problem with far reaching effects. It puts everyone in danger -- even the most responsible drivers and pedestrians."

Using data from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, CDC researchers found that men make up 81 percent of drunk drivers. In addition, although men 21 to 34 years old are only 11 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 32 percent of all drunk drivers.

Most drinking and driving episodes (85 percent) were reported by people who also said they binge drink, according to the report.

Moreover, 55 percent of drunk driving episodes were among the 4.5 percent of adults who said they engaged in binge drinking at least four times a month. And these episodes were four times higher among people who reported not wearing a seat belt all the time, compared with those who always wear one, the researchers found.

Ways to prevent drunk driving, according to the CDC, include:

  • Sobriety checkpoints where drivers are stopped to see if the driver is drunk. According to the U.S. Transportation Research Board, more of these checkpoints could save 1,500 to 3,000 lives each year.
  • Keeping the minimum drinking age at 21 in all states to help prevent young drivers from drinking and driving.
  • Requiring convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks that keep the car from starting if they have been drinking. These devices reduce re-arrest rates for drunk driving by about two-thirds, the CDC said.

Frieden noted that despite their effectiveness, sobriety checkpoints are prohibited in 12 states. "There is very strong public support for checkpoints, with 75 percent of respondents in a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation endorsing weekly or monthly sobriety checkpoints," he said.

Ignition interlocks are only used in about 20 percent of drunk driving cases, Frieden said. "We recommend at CDC making interlocks mandatory for all offenders," he said.

Another effective strategy some states use is the graduated drivers license for young drivers, Frieden said. "We think largely as a result of those policies we are seeing substantial reduction in fatalities among 16- to 18-year-old drivers," he said.

Other countries have done more to reduce drunk driving than the United States, Frieden said. "Their rates of motor vehicle crashes are half or two-thirds lower than the U.S. rate, and they drink just as much and they drive just as fast," he said.

"While we have made progress, this is still a huge problem that's a threat to everyone, particularly because there is so much more we can do," he said.

More information

For more information on drunk driving, visit the CDC.

SOURCES: Oct. 4, 2011, teleconference with Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Oct. 4, 2011, Vital Signs: Alcohol-Impaired Driving Among Adults -- United States, 2010, CDC
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