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Alcohol-impaired drivers responsible for many child passenger deaths

About 1 in 5 child passenger deaths in the US involves an alcohol-impaired driver; in most cases, it is the child’s own driver
About 1 in 5 child passenger deaths in the US involves an alcohol-impaired driver; in most cases, it is the child’s own driver
Robin Wulffson, MD

Although all states have tough laws for driving under the influence, many intoxicated driver weave down the nation’s highways and are responsible for many deaths. For example, approximately 1,500 Californians are killed and 30,000 are injured each year as a result of drinking and driving. A new study assessed recent trends and state-specific rates of these deaths. The findings were published online on May 5 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois and the Center for Injury Prevention and Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia

The study authors note that about 1 in 5 child passenger deaths in the US involves an alcohol-impaired driver; in most cases, it is the child’s own driver. They reviewed a descriptive analysis of 2001–2010 Fatality Analysis Reporting System data for child passengers aged less than 15 years of age who were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes. Driver impairment was defined as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 g/dL or higher.

The investigators found that from 2001to 2010, 2,344 children under the age of 15 years were killed in crashes involving at least one1 alcohol-impaired driver. Among these children, 1.515 (65%) were riding with an impaired driver. On a positive note, annual deaths among children riding with an alcohol-impaired driver decreased by 41% over the study decade. Among the 37 states included in the state-level analysis, Texas (272) and California (135) reported the most children killed while riding with an impaired driver; South Dakota (0.98) and New Mexico (0.86) had the highest annualized child passenger death rates (per 100,000 children). Despite seatbelt laws, most (61%) child passengers of impaired drivers were unrestrained at the time of the crash. In addition, one-third of the impaired drivers did not have a valid driver license.

The authors concluded that alcohol-impaired driving remains a major threat to the safety of child passengers in the US; furthermore, the death usually involves children being driven by impaired drivers. The risk varies significantly between among states. The authors recommended that in order to make further progress, states and communities should consider increased use of effective interventions and efforts aimed specifically at protecting child passengers from impaired drivers.

Many individuals who drive under the influence are not fully aware of the consequences of a DUI conviction. The first offense could easily cost more than $12,000. Estimated costs for first misdemeanor DUI conviction:

· Fine (minimum): $390 or more

· Penalties (typical): $780

· Vehicle tow/storage: $187

· 15-week alcohol education classes: $500

· Victim restitution fund: $100

· DMV licensing re-issue fee: $125

· Booking, fingerprinting, and photo fee: $156

· Auto insurance rate increase: $7,424 over a ten year period

· Attorney fees: $2,500

· Total: $12,162

Additional potential costs:

· Up to 48 hours in jail, possibly more

· Lost work time and wages—or losing your job entirely

· Medical costs

· Vehicle or property damage

· Transportation costs during a 4-month license suspension

· Cost of an ignition interlock device if required by the court

· Other court-imposed fines and fees

· Civil liability

All states define driving with a blood alcohol concentration at or above 0.08 percent as a crime; however, specific laws and penalties vary substantially from state to state. Most states (43) and the District of Columbia impose an administrative license suspension on the first offense. This suspension allows law enforcement to confiscate a driver license for a period of time if he or she fails a chemical test. Most of these states allow limited driving privileges (such as to and from work).

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