Drinking And Driving: Still A Problem, Mostly For Men

October 19, 2011
Drunk driver

Drunk driver

Over the past 30 years or so, America has made significant progress in the war on drinking and driving. But despite a steep drop in fatalities, it remains a problem, and the culprits are typically men.

In 1980, the U.S. saw an average of 25,000 deaths from alcohol-related auto injuries. That year, Candy Lightner formed Mothers Against Drunk Driving, launching a barrage of education and legislative campaigns. Within a very short time, states set higher minimum ages for drinking, and America began seeing fewer drunk-driving fatalities. Today, about 11,000 people are killed each year by drunk drivers, accounting for roughly 1/3 of all traffic fatalities.

While that decline is impressive, it's far, far from perfect. Recent data analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped reveal America's blind spots on drunk driving and where we and our lawmakers need to do more work. Here are the CDC's biggest takeaways:

  • Men were responsible for most drunk-driving incidents in 2010 -- 81%, in fact. That figure represents a combination of self-reported incidents and data from police reports. 
  • Roughly 85% of those drunk driving incidents involved binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as consuming a high number of drinks in a short period of time: five for men and four for women.
  • Those first two facts might explain why men age 21 - 34 accounted for 32% of all drinking and driving episodes in 2010, even though they make up just 11% of the population.

That's not to say that women are entirely off the hook, only that they account for far fewer drunk driving incidents. In 2010, the women most likely to drive drunk were age 21 to 24 -- and even then, they accounted for only 25% of the total.

The CDC recommends several ways that America can continue reducing the number of drunk driving crashes and fatalities. They include:

  • More sobriety checkpoints. (In many states, they're underused, and 12 states don't employ them at all.)
  • Mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers, even first-offenders. (Only 20% of people convicted of DUI are forced to use interlocks, even though the devices reduce the chance of a subsequent DUI arrest by 66%.)
  • Stricter seat belt laws that make violation a primary offense. (In other words, states need to enact laws that give police the authority to pull over vehicles solely because drivers or passengers aren't wearing their seat belts).

That third item is particularly important, since statistics show that wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of death in an accident by about 50%. In fact, while higher minimum drinking ages and drunk-driving awareness campaigns have been crucial in reducing the number of fatalities from drunk driving over the past few decades, mandatory seat belt laws have likely had a significant effect, too.

For more information about the problem of drunk driving and how you can be a part of the solution, check out the CDC website, or download this handy PDF.

[via New York Times]

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