Drunk Drivers Responsible For 20% Of Child Fatalities In Auto Accidents

May 7, 2014

Our cars have become much safer over the years, and as a result, traffic fatalities have been on the decline, reaching record lows. But you might be surprised to learn that drunk drivers still account for around one-third of all roadway deaths: in 2011, they were linked to 9,878 of the year's 32,367 fatalities, and in 2012, that figure was 10,322 out of a total 33,561.

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According to Detroit News, young passengers make up a substantial portion of those fatalities. Over a recent ten-year period, 20 percent of children 15 and younger who died in auto accidents were killed by drunk drivers.

That statistic comes from the Centers for Disease Control, which states that between 2001 and 2010, 2,344 children were killed in collisions involving drunk drivers. Sadly, most of those children knew the driver in question: 65 percent of them were riding in the vehicle with the impaired driver. 

One thing that may have increased child fatality rates in those cars is the fact that nearly two-thirds -- 61 percent, to be precise -- weren't restrained by seat belts or child safety seats at the time of the collision.

And as if that weren't shocking enough, a third of drivers involved in accidents that killed a child didn't have a valid driver's license. 

Texas saw more children die due to drunk driving between 2001 and 2010 than any other state, with a total of 272 fatalities. South Dakota had the highest fatality rate per 100,000 children at .98.

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Combating drunk driving isn't easy. Among other things, it requires a combination of outreach and education, penalties for offenders, and enforcement of those penalties. 

But smaller measures matter, too. Bartenders who cut off inebriated patrons, for example. Friends who take their friends' keys. And more generally, a culture that encourages people to plan ahead if they're planning to drink. 

What the CDC data shows is that much of the burden for reducing child deaths from drunk driving falls on the shoulders of parents and guardians. We'd have hoped it might be obvious that adults need to skip happy hour before picking up their kids from soccer practice and to buckle them in for the trip home. Clearly, there's a lot more work to be done.


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