Despite the fact that many people are aware of how dangerous drunk driving can be, a surprising number of them still get behind the wheel after having too much to drink. It is a serious problem and must be addressed with great concern by all concerned.
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Fortunately, there have been substantial reductions in the number of alcohol-related traffic deaths over the past 20 years. This decrease has been most dramatic among 16- to 20-year-olds (see Figure 3), down 56 percent, and it has been less dramatic for older adults. However, a large proportion of alcohol-related traffic fatalities still occur among older drivers.
A majority of all traffic deaths involve someone with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit of 0.08 percent. This is the threshold that determines whether a driver is guilty of a drunk driving offense. Nevertheless, the BAC level of a driver or pedestrian involved in a crash can vary widely. Almost half of all fatal crashes involve someone with a BAC above 0.15 percent, while less than a quarter involve someone with a BAC below that.
In addition to BAC, other factors that can affect a person’s ability to drive safely also impact a driver’s risk for a drunk driving accident. For example, if a person has an impaired sense of smell or hearing, it may interfere with their ability to make decisions and react quickly to situations on the road.
The type of crash and the role of the person killed in a crash also can influence the percentage of fatalities that are alcohol-related. For example, in 2002, 37 percent of fatal crashes involving cars or vans, 45 percent of fatal crashes involving light trucks, and 43 percent of fatal crashes involving motorcycles were alcohol-related.
Regardless of the type of vehicle involved in a crash, people who are killed in traffic crashes with alcohol use are more likely to be passengers than drivers. In fact, in 2002, 7 percent of the fatalities involving a car or truck involved a person who was not the driver. In addition, 13 percent of the fatalities involving motorcycles involved a person who was not a biker.
Although there is no direct correlation between the amount of alcohol that a child has and their risk for being involved in a drunk driving crash, there are other factors that can contribute to this situation. For instance, children are more likely to drink at a younger age than other demographic groups (e.g., 18- to 24-year-olds) or in a non-urban setting than are urban teenagers.
Younger children who start drinking at a young age are also at increased risk of being involved in an alcohol-related crash. For example, in 2002, 573 children younger than age 16 died in crashes involving a person who was under the influence of alcohol.