Study: Young People Aren't Drinking & Driving As Much As They Used To

December 16, 2015

When we think about the problem of drinking and driving, we often associate it with younger, less experienced drivers. A new study shows that the practice has become far less common among motorists age 16 to 25, though we're not out of the woods, yet.

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The Centers for Disease Control recently published a study called Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, Marijuana, and Alcohol and Marijuana Combined Among Persons Aged 16–25 Years — United States, 2002–2014. Despite the title, the CDC looked at data gathered as far back as 1991 to compare stats on drivers between the ages of 16 and 25*. Here are some of the study's important takeaways:

  • In 1991, 22.3 percent of motorists age 16 to 19 reported that they'd driven under the influence of alcohol. By 2011, that figure had fallen to 10.3 percent -- a 54 percent drop.
  • Similar data gathered in 2002 and 2014 suggests that much of the improvement happened in this century, and that the numbers are continuing to move in the right direction. In 2002, 16.2 percent of motorists age 16 to 20 said that they'd driven after consuming alcohol, while in 2014, that figure fell to 6.6 percent -- a 59 percent decline.
  • Improvement seemed best toward the younger end of the group. Among drivers between 21 and 25, 29.1 percent said that they'd driven under the influence of alcohol in 2002, while in 2014, 18.1 percent said the same. That's a smaller but still important 38 percent reduction.
  • Use of marijuana, however, appears to be on the rise: among drivers 16 and older, 8.6 percent admitted to smoking up and driving in 2007, while 12.6 percent said that they'd done the same on a survey taken in 2013–2014. That's a 48 percent increase.
  • That said, the increase in driving while high appears more common among older drivers. Among those 16 to 20, the practice has actually declined 18 percent -- from 3.8 percent in 2002 to 3.1 percent of those surveyed in 2014.
  • And what about people driving under the influence of both booze and pot? Thankfully, those figures have improved, too. The practice has declined among drivers age 16 to 20 by 39 percent (from 2.3 percent in 2002 to 1.4 percent of those surveyed in 2014), and it's fallen by about 38 percent among those 21 to 25 (from 3.1 percent in 2002 to 1.9 percent last year).

There's plenty of good news in all that. Among other things, prevention efforts -- from education programs in schools to enforcement initiatives on the roads -- appear to be having the desired effect.

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However, there's lots of room for improvement, too. Nearly 20 percent of drivers between the ages of 21 and 25 are still driving under the influence of alcohol, 38 percent engage in binge drinking, and around 20 percent smoke weed.

And of course, motor vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death among people between the ages of 16 and 25. In 2013 alone, some 2,000 young people died in roadway accidents, and roughly one-third of those could be blamed on alcohol. 

* Note that these stats were self-reported. In other words, some respondents may not have admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol, pot, or both.

[via New York Times]

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