The prevalence of drinking and driving among teens 16 and older declined by 54% from 1991 to 2011, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.
But Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC, said that teen drinking remained a serious problem in the U.S. and that the improvement was just a start.
“We are moving in the right direction,” he said, in a statement. “But one in 10 high school teens, aged 16 and older, drinks and drives each month, endangering themselves and others.”
The CDC analysis was compiled from data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey. American public and private school students in grades 9 through 12 volunteered to answer an anonymous, self-administered questionnaire that asked about their alcohol use (including binge drinking, defined as having had five or more drinks in a row on at least one day in the preceding 30 days) as well as whether they drink and drive.
Nationally, self-reported drinking and driving rates fell from 22.3% to 10.3%, according to a write-up published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Boys were more likely to drink and drive than girls, and white and Latino students were more likely to drink and drive than black students. Of the students who said they drink and drive, 84.6% said they were binge drinkers.
State by state, the lowest prevalence of drinking and driving was in Utah (4.6%); the highest, in North Dakota (14.5%).
The study authors attributed the decline in teen drinking and driving to two possible factors. First, they wrote, alcohol use and binge drinking are less common among adolescents than they were in the late 1990s. Also, driving has declined significantly: The proportion of high school seniors who did not drive in an average week increased by a third from 2000 to 2010. The authors suggested this was a result of high gas prices and of graduated licensing systems and other driving restrictions that have kept kids off the roads.
They cautioned, however, that drinking and driving among teens remains a factor in more than 800 deaths a year. Compared with sober drivers the same age, a driver who is 16 to 20 years old with a blood alcohol level between 0.08% and 0.099% is 32 times as likely to die in a single-vehicle crash and 13 times as likely to be the driver in a crash that kills someone else.
For more on the teen drinking statistics, visit the CDC’s Vital Signs Web page.