Fewer Teens are Drinking and Driving

Drinking and driving among adolescents aged 16 and older fell by 54% during the last 20 years. 


Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among adolescents aged 16 to 19 years; in 2010, 20% of drivers involved in a fatal crash in this age group had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) >0%. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analyzed data from the 1991–2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBSs) to provide a more detailed picture of this public health problem. The YRBS is an in-school survey of 11,000 to 16,000 students from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The prevalence of drinking and driving remained stable from 1991 to 1997 (22.3%) but then fell steadily to 10.3% by 2011. In 2011, boys were significantly more likely to drink than girls (11.7% vs. 8.8%), and white (10.6%) and Hispanic (11.5%) students were significantly more likely to drink than black students (6.6%). Those 18 years and older had the highest rate of drinking and driving (14.5%), but 7.2% of 16-year-olds also reported driving after consuming alcohol. Binge drinkers (≥5 drinks in a row at least once in the 30 days before the survey) were three times more likely to drink and drive than nonbinge drinkers (32.1% vs. 9.7%).

Comment: The CDC estimates that minimum drinking age, “zero tolerance” BAC, and graduated driver licensing laws contributed to the 54% reduction. Although this report highlights the substantial progress we have made, data from the 2010 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System suggests more progress is needed: 81% of drivers aged 16 to 19 years with positive BACs involved in fatal crashes had levels greater than the legal limit for adults (0.08%).

Alain Joffe, MD, MPH, FAAP



Citation(s)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vital signs: Drinking and driving among high school students aged ≥16 years — United States, 1991–2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2012 Oct 5; 61:796.




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