How Many Children Die in Drunk Driving Accidents?
During the decade 2001 to 2010, an estimated 2,344 children younger than 15 years old were killed in automobile crashes in which at least one driver was found to be alcohol-impaired. According to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a national registry of motor vehicle deaths, these numbers represent approximately one in 1.4 million child passengers who die in crashes each year. While the number of children dying in car accidents has decreased over the past decade, the rate of those involving a drunk driver has remained relatively unchanged. Among the states studied, the child passenger death rate was highest in New Mexico and lowest in Mississippi. The study, which examined US Census data, compared annualized child passenger death rates in each state to nationwide rates.
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The study used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to examine trends in drunk driving-related deaths for children and to document state-specific patterns. It also used descriptive epidemiological analyses to identify opportunities for preventive interventions.
During the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, the rate of fatal child traffic crashes involving a drunk driver declined by 41 percent. The majority of these crashes occurred during the evening hours and involved at least one vehicle. In most cases, the drinking driver was the child’s parent or caregiver. However, nearly half of the child traffic deaths were attributed to a child passenger riding with an impaired driver. This is a serious concern because these drivers are at greater risk of being in a crash because of their impaired driving and because they are less likely to use appropriate safety restraints.
The drinking driver was more likely to have a previous license suspension or conviction for driving while intoxicated than a non-drinking driver. In addition, one-third of alcohol-impaired drivers did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of the crash.
The study found that a quarter of all child traffic fatalities involve an alcohol-impaired driver. However, this rate varied widely by state. The highest child death rate occurred in South Dakota. The lowest was in New Jersey. The rate of child passenger deaths was higher in states that enforce higher alcohol limits. The risk of these deaths also varies by age. During the decade, the percentage of child passenger deaths involving a drunk driver was significantly higher for teenagers than for younger children.
The number of child passengers who died in crashes involving a drunk drivers during the decade decreased by more than a quarter, and the risk of these deaths decreased even more when a child was younger. The overall number of child passengers who were injured in these crashes increased by more than a quarter. This could be due to the increase in the use of child seatbelts. Alternatively, the decline in the rate of child passenger deaths with a drunk driver could be a result of campaigns against drinking and driving.
The data was obtained through an anonymous, confidential, online survey of child health professionals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which maintains the FARS, provided statistical information. The researchers interpreted the findings and analyzed the data to identify state-specific patterns that may influence prevention efforts.