1-in-5 Child Deaths in Auto Accidents Involve Use of Alcohol by Drivers: Study

Researchers found that the majority of those children who are killed in alcohol-related car accidents were riding in the vehicle operated by a drunk driver.

A new study reveals that the number of children who die in auto accidents involving drunk drivers remains high, and even increased during the first year of the COVID pandemic, despite efforts throughout the U.S. to prevent drunk driving.

Researchers from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Maryland report that 22% of children killed in a motor vehicle crash from 2011 to 2020 involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Their findings were published in the medical journal Pediatrics on February 6.

According to the study, child passenger deaths increased during the first year of the pandemic, and a lack of proper restraints was a major contributor to all child deaths involving drunk drivers.

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Child Passenger Accident Deaths Involving Alcohol

Researchers analyzed passenger accident death data among children younger than 15 years from the 2011–2019 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Final Files, which documents those involving alcohol, and the 2020 Annual Report Files (ARF) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The data revealed approximately 7,944 children died in a car accident from 2011 to 2020, with 22% involving a drunk driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that was above the legal limit. Among the child passengers killed drunk driving accidents, 64% were riding with the impaired operator in the same vehicle.

Nearly 60% of the fatal accidents involved a single vehicle, and 65% occurred at night, according to the data.

The study revealed the majority of children killed were unrestrained, especially those who were older in age, and restraint use decreased as their own driver’s BAC increased.

Researchers indicate many U.S. states have implemented endangerment and protection laws with enhanced penalties for driving under the influence (DUI) with children in the vehicle, but they are not consistently enforced and have not been effective.

The new findings suggest that states need to revise existing laws and develop new legislation specifically aimed to protect child passengers endangered by their own impaired driver, according to the researchers. They proposed possible interventions that may be helpful in reducing and preventing alcohol-impaired driving, including expanded use of alcohol ignition interlock devices for drivers convicted of DUI, requiring programs for repeat offenders, and lowering existing BAC limits.


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