Page last updated: March 27, 2017

Alcohol policies and alcohol-related motor vehicle crash fatalities among young people in the US

A study published in the journal Pediatrics, supports the importance of comprehensive alcohol control policies to reduce the number of young people who die in alcohol-related crashes.

Boston Medical Center researchers examined the relationship between states’ alcohol policy environments and alcohol-related MVC fatalities among children, adolescents, and young adults under the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years.

An alcohol policy scale was used to assess 29 alcohol policies across the United States that were designed to reduce alcohol consumption or prevent impaired driving. These were then cross referenced with the number of people under 21 who died in crashes involving alcohol. States were ranked based on how restrictive their alcohol laws were, including higher alcohol taxes and zero-tolerance policies for young people drinking and driving.

28% of nearly 85,000 deaths were alcohol related, including deaths of 11,006 (46.3%) drivers, 10,212 (43.0%) passengers, and 2,539 (10.7%) pedestrians, cyclists, and others. People killed in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes were predominantly male (72.7%) and older (65.5% were 18-20 years old), and 51.2% were non-Hispanic white. Restrictive policy environments were associated with fewer fatalities (adjusted odds ratio, 0.91 per 10-percentage-point increase in APS score; 95% confidence interval, 0.89-0.94). The association was observed for drivers and passengers, male and female decendents, and children, adolescents, and young adults.

Researchers found as state alcohol laws became more restrictive, the likelihood of a young person being killed in a drunk driving crash decreased and led to less alcohol consumption as a whole. However, they comment that studies should scrutinise the relationship between policies and fatalities to highlight mechanisms. “Half of all young people who die in crashes are driven by someone who has been drinking,” says lead author Scott Hadland, MD, a pediatrician at BMC and the study’s corresponding author. “But with stronger alcohol policies at the state level, we saw a significantly lower likelihood of alcohol-related deaths.”

Source: Alcohol policies and alcohol-related motor vehicle crash fatalities among young people in the US Hadland SE; Xuan Z; Sarda V; Blanchette J; Swahn MH; Heeren TC; Voas RB; Naimi TS. Pediatrics, published early online 13 February 2017.

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