DUI and Teens – A Study

CHICAGO–There were more than 120 million incidents of
alcohol-impaired driving in the U.S. in 1993, including ten million
episodes occurring among underage drinkers, according to an article in
this week’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association

Simin Liu, M.D., M.S., and Robert D. Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H., from the
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga., and colleagues estimated how
frequently adults in the U.S. drive while impaired by alcohol. Dr. Liu is
now with the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.

They write: “Despite the enactment and enforcement of stricter
legislation in many states, 2.5 percent of survey respondents reported
alcohol-impaired driving during the month before the interview. Based on
these self-reports, we estimate that there were nearly 123 million
episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among adults in the U.S. during
1993; nearly ten million of these events occurred among persons aged 18
to 20 years. This estimate is 82 times higher than the 1.5 million
arrests for driving while intoxicated in the U.S. that year.”

The study included 102,263 adults age 18 and older, from 49 states and
Washington, D.C., who were surveyed by telephone for the Behavioral Risk
Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in 1993.

The researchers found that there were 655 episodes of alcohol-impaired
driving for each 1,000 adults. Alcohol-impaired driving was most frequent
among men aged 21 to 34 years (1,739 episodes per 1,000 adults) and was
nearly as frequent among men aged 18 years to 20 years (1,623 episodes
per 1,000 adults), despite legislation in all states that prohibits the
sale of alcohol to persons younger than 21.

The authors believe their results provide a conservative estimate of
the prevalence of alcohol-impaired drivers because of the social stigma
attached to reporting drinking and driving; incorrectly assessing whether
they were impaired; and not including data from drivers younger than age
18, a group that has a high prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving.

The researchers write: “… We believe that BRFSS data on
alcohol-impaired driving are useful for estimating the magnitude of the
problem, monitoring temporal trends, developing programs and policies,
and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions to prevent
alcohol-impaired driving.”

Aggressive Intervention Key to Preventing

Concerning possible interventions, the authors write: “Effective
policies include prompt license suspension for persons arrested for
driving while impaired and lowering the legal blood alcohol level to, at
most, 0.08 grams/deciliter for adults and 0.02 grams/deciliter for
drivers younger than 21 years of age. Since alcohol-impaired driving
still occurs frequently among persons from 18 to 20 years of age we also
recommend strict enforcement of minimum drinking age laws and the passage
of ‘zero tolerance’ laws, which lower the legal alcohol concentration for
drivers younger than 21 years of age.

“We also strongly encourage clinicians to be involved in the
prevention of alcohol-impaired driving. In addition to supporting public
policies, clinicians can screen patients for alcohol problems; obtain
blood alcohol concentrations on injured patients; and provide patients
with brief interventions, refer them for specialized treatment, or both,
depending on the severity of their drinking problem.”

They conclude: “Through this combination of legal and medical
interventions, we can further reduce the unacceptable burden of injury
and death from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and facilitate the
early diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism.”

According to the authors, injuries resulting from motor vehicle
crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S. among people one to 34
years old, and approximately 41 percent of the 40,676 traffic fatalities
in 1994 were related to alcohol. Two of five people in the U.S. will be
involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash at some time during
their lives.

Science News Press Releases for the week of January 8, 1997

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