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Drunk Driving and its Impact on Children
Posted by Charles Esslinger on May 9th, 2014

Each year, thousands of people die in traffic accidents that involve drunk or intoxicated driving. Not all of them, however, are adults.

According to a new study from the Erie Family Health Center in Chicago, the majority of children who died in alcohol-related car accidents were riding in the same car as the impaired driver. The study, which was lead by Dr. Kyran Quinlan, found that even though the trend seemed to holdup from a national perspective, rates varied from state to state. Still, the evidence seemed to buck conventional wisdom. “Despite what's commonly thought, it's not a family in one car and a drunk driver in another,” Dr. Quinlan said.

In their article in Pediatrics, Dr. Quinlan and his colleagues noted that around 1,210 children under the age of 15 were killed in a car in 2010. Of those crashes, one in five involved intoxicated driving. Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which tracks fatal automobile accidents in the U.S., researchers found that 2,344 children under the age of 15 died in 2,075 car crashes involving intoxicated driving between 2001 and 2010. In those fatal collisions, children were riding with the intoxicated driver 65% of the time.

During that 10-year period, the number of children killed while riding with a drunk driver has fallen by 41 percent, from 197 in 2001 to 116 in 2010. Although Quinlan and his team can't say exactly what caused the drop, they pointed to a rise in awareness about the dangers of drunk driving and the increased use of child seat belts.

According to the research, the likelihood of a child being buckled up decreases with the child's age and increases as the driver's blood alcohol level rises. In cases where a child dies from a drunk driving collision, 61 percent of the time they were not wearing a seatbelt. “About 70% of the time the drunk driver survived the crash,” Quinlan said. “This means many times the crashes were survivable and if the child were buckled up they might have lived.”

As for drunk driving fatalities, not every state is the same. Currently, Mississippi, New Mexico, and South Dakota have the highest rates of drunk deaths involving minors. Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, on the other hand, had the lowest measurable rates. In South Dakota, the fatality rate for children who ride with an intoxicated driver is about one in 100,000. In New York, the rate is .07 children per 100,000, or one in 1.4 million.

While there are a lot of factors that could contribute to the discrepancies found in states' fatality rates, the differences in their laws could be the most important variable. Dr. Michael Siegel, who works at the Boston University school of Public Health, said that the states with higher rates of death seem to have weaker laws. “You do see a pattern that does seem to correspond with the strength of their alcohol laws,” said Dr. Siegel, who was not part of the study.

When it comes to reducing the number of fatalities caused by intoxicated driving, Quinlan and his colleagues have some ideas. Things like sobriety checkpoints, minimum drinking ages, and the enforcement of zero-tolerance laws all can help to reduce drunk driving. “We felt that if we could provide these states specific data, (they) could see where we are in this and perhaps consider strengthening their child endangerment laws,” Quinlan concluded.


Reuters - http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/05/us-child-death-drinking-driving-idUSKBN0DL0O320140505