CDC: Teen drinking and driving rates cut in half
Drinking and driving among high-schoolers ages 16 to 19 dropped 54% between 1991 and 2011, the CDC says.
October 2nd, 2012
04:16 PM ET

CDC: Teen drinking and driving rates cut in half

The number of teenagers who are drinking and driving has dropped by 54% in the past two decades, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, when asked if they drink and drive, 90% of the high school students 16 and older surveyed by the CDC said they did not.

However, “motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens in this country.  There are more than 2,000 teens aged 16-19 killed each year and many of those deaths are alcohol-related,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. “Almost a million high school teens aged 16 and over drove after drinking alcohol in 2011 and we calculate that high school teens were responsible for about 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month.”

The report also tells us that 85% of students who admitted to driving after drinking also participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Frieden explained that drinking and driving is especially risky for younger drivers, who are 17 times more likely to die in an accident when alcohol is involved.

The study examined data from CDC’s 1991-2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which monitors six types of behaviors that raise the risk of death and disability among youth and young adults. The surveillance system includes national surveys given to public and private students in grades nine through 12.  Teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia completed voluntary and anonymous questionnaires that asked questions about current drinking and driving habits, alcohol use and binge drinking.

Teens were asked whether they had operated a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol one or more times during the 30 days before answering the survey.

Significant findings in the study include:

- 10.3% of teens reported drinking and driving in 2011, compared to 22.3% in 1991.

- 11.7% of male students were more likely to be drinking and driving, compared to 8.8% of female students.

- Hispanic (11.5%) and White students (10.6%) were more likely to drink and drive than African-American students (6.6%)

- 7.2% of 16-year-olds reported drinking and driving, which increased to 11.5% among 17-year-olds. Among students who reported drinking and driving, 84.6% reported binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row.

Video: Teens get graphic drunk-driving lesson

While the report shows progress has been made during the last 20 years in reducing teen drinking and driving, driving among teens also declined during the past decade.

Some of the factors that have contributed to the reduction in drunk driving include raising the minimum drinking age to 21 in all U.S. states, zero tolerance laws making it illegal for teens to have any alcohol in their system while driving, and the increase in graduated driver’s licensing programs, which ease new drivers into having full driving privileges.

“We’ve seen teen driving fatalities fall by nearly 40% in nearly five years because of graduated drivers' license laws as well as other interventions,” Frieden said.

He stressed the importance of states, pediatricians, and parents playing a role in educating teens about the dangers of drinking and driving. And he urged parents to set an example by not drinking and driving, and signing agreements with their teens to not drink and drive, as well as teaching teens to never get into a vehicle with anybody who has been drinking.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Hannah

    Great. Too bad there is still texting and driving.

    October 2, 2012 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Colie

    I think it is great that we have improved over the years but what can we do to eliminate drinking and driving even more?

    October 2, 2012 at 19:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. tomhua

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    October 2, 2012 at 21:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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  5. CaptainNewsflash

    This just in: After further study, research finds that teens are now 78% more efficient at lying about drinking and driving

    October 2, 2012 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Brett

    If you think drinking and driving rates are down you've got your head in the sand. Go to any nightclub / bar area and you'll see parking lots FULL of vehicles, hundreds of vehicles. If you don't think people have more than the legal limit (which is usually about 2) and drive you're oblivious!

    October 3, 2012 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Deeana

      True, but hopefully one person from each group is the designated driver. I agree that down 54% is great but still means there is room for improvement, however (I have two teenagers too), providing a solution/suggestion such as having a designated driver is very helpful. The message is not limited to "dont drink and drive", the designated driver message provides a solution to how one can drink as well as get home safely. To me, it also seems that smoking is down.

      October 3, 2012 at 10:00 | Report abuse |
    • Read

      Brett, you're oblivious. Read the damn article. They are talking teen drinking! Teen drinking and driving is down, not drinking and driving overall.

      October 3, 2012 at 11:42 | Report abuse |
    • Nathan

      Thanks for conducting that scientific study for us, Brett. Remind me which medical journal you're with again?

      October 3, 2012 at 11:57 | Report abuse |
  7. BillinSD

    Teens have learned to take Oxycontin during their weekend adventuring... Gets you just as stoned, but you blow clean at the sobriety checkpoints.

    October 3, 2012 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Cord

    Are these the same high school students who when surveyed (in a self administered non-tractable survey) admitted to having sex 10 times a day? The only thing a blind survey does is provide false information.

    October 3, 2012 at 11:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Greg

    Isn't it illegal for people under 21 to drink?

    October 3, 2012 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hi2u

      and abided by to the extent of urinating in public.

      October 3, 2012 at 20:35 | Report abuse |
  10. JT

    So many problems with these numbers...

    First off, why on earth would they poll all students instead of only those who drive? Of course kids without a car aren't drinking and driving... yet you asked them if they were and included their responses.

    Secondly, the student response rate was 60-75% ... one can assume that of the 25-40% of students that didn't respond, a healthy number of them are drinkers who don't want to anonymously admit to breaking the law.

    Finally, they claim a 40% reduction in fatalities – but what we're really concerned with is crashes. Cars are safer now than they were in 1991 and so are the highways.

    October 3, 2012 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lou Cypher

      You are thinking like a pure scientist.

      The CDC is a political organization that handles select scientific subject matters. As a result, there is a big difference between core scientific data and the public narrative one constructs around that data.

      CDC is primarily charged with managing the public narrative, not delivering good science.

      October 4, 2012 at 06:42 | Report abuse |
  11. us_1776

    Everyone's switching over to the purple bud.


    October 3, 2012 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fiftyfive55

      a lot smarter and safer than booze.

      October 4, 2012 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
  12. josie

    I think drink driveing is very dangers and puts young lifes in risk not only because your drinking and its bad for you but because your driving on the road and puting others lifes at risk that are not drinking and driving so i think young teens should stop drink driven even adults to because there being an bad model to others younger then them.!

    October 3, 2012 at 20:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. fiftyfive55

    I wish the author was right but in fact teens have learned not to admit anything to anybody for fear of reprisals.Teens are smarter than most folks give them credit for and if they want to hide something ,you wont find out until they want you to.

    October 4, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Brendan

    The anti-alcohol groups have continually pushed for more stringent laws, justifying it by claiming the 21 drinking age is easily thwarted, minimally enforced, etc. If this is true, then any reduction in deaths isn't the result of the 21 drinking age. They can't have it both ways.

    In reality, the 21 drinking age didn't save lives in the long term, it merely moved them from one age group to another. Fewer 16-20 year olds, more 21-24 year olds.

    An alcohol related crash is a crash where the driver or a non-occupant had a measureable BAC. A 16 year old with a .01 BAC who gets hit by a red light running driver, A 15 year old who jaywalks in front of a 30 year old with a .01 BAC, and a 17 year old killed by a 29 year old with a BAC of .01 (or .11), are ALL alcohol related crashes involving the death of a person under 21 (and part of that 2000 # above), yet none are caused by a drunk person under 21.

    Going further, a 19 year old who hits a drunk jaywalker or drunk red light runner, etc, is part of the statistics of persons under 21 in fatal alcohol related crash.

    Of course graduated licensing works-if you don't let people drive, they can't get in crashes. This explains why the accident rate among 6-10 year old drivers is 0. That doesn't make it right. The same people who can be tried as adults for numerous offenses, work a job, etc. cannot driver after 10pm and/or have passengers that aren't relatives (I guess their sibling is OK to die with them at the wheel, but not their friend.)

    October 4, 2012 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jim

    If alcohol weren't so forbidden, we wouldn't have as many teens binge drinking in secret then driving home from parties. I spent some time abroad and was surprised at the different outlook on alcohol. In some places there was no drinking age, in other places it was 16, in both cases alcohol was no big deal. Kids and teens would have a beer or a glass of wine on occasion and under parental supervision. Ban something and you drive it underground. Teens have been drinking alcohol for as long as alcohol has existed and teens will continue to drink alcohol. Time to accept that and focus on keeping people of ALL ages from driving a car while intoxicated.

    October 4, 2012 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. me


    October 4, 2012 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. meka

    I am very grateful that the percentage had went down because right now i am taking driving ed and it is a serious thing not to drink and drive we only have one life to live so lets have fun without drinking and driving>!!!

    October 5, 2012 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Daniel

    I like my sister and brother-in-laws method. They told their son when he turned 16 and got his driver's license. 'If you have had anything to drink and call us to come get you we will gladly come get you and take away the car for the next weekend night. If you drive home and we realize you have been drinking that night we take away your car and license until you are 18.'

    October 5, 2012 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Andy

    2,000 deaths out of what... 30 – 40 million teens? What a waste of money and time.

    May 14, 2013 at 14:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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