CDC: An Estimated 4 Million People Reported Driving Drunk in 2010

Keys and drinkAmerican motorists reported driving drunk about 112 million times in 2010, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that found self-reported incidents of driving after imbibing too much alcohol have fallen by 30 percent over the past five years.

About 4 million respondents reported driving drunk at least once during the year, with men accounting for 81 percent of all episodes and 85 percent of incidents reported by motorists who also reported “binge drinking,” according to CDC.

The study, which was released this week, found the 4.5 percent of adults who reported binge drinking—defined by CDC as more than five drinks on one occasion for a man and more than four for a woman—at least four times a month accounted for 55 percent of all incidents of alcohol-impaired driving.

CDC officials said they could not fully explain the overall decline in reported drunken driving, but suggested possible causes including a decrease in driving because of the economic slump and the possibility that more people have chosen to drink closer to home.

The study is based on analysis of the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based system of health surveys that gathers data on health risk behaviors from more than 350,000 adults nationwide.

Officials conceded that the survey may underestimate the frequency of impaired driving for a number of reasons, including the social stigma involved with driving under the influence of alcohol, which study authors said could make the total of self-reported cases “spuriously low.”

The survey also focused exclusively on adults with landline telephones, excluding both minors and those who use only wireless phones. And it defined alcohol-impaired driving for respondents as driving “when you’ve had perhaps too much to drink.”

According to CDC, roughly one-third of all fatal vehicle crashes involve an alcohol-impaired driver, with nearly 10,900 fatalities in 2009 tied to crashes in which at least one motorist had a blood alcohol concentration of more than .08.

The number of roadway deaths involving alcohol fell 20 percent between 2006 and 2009, CDC reported, but the percentage of all traffic fatalities that involved drinking remained at 33 percent because of a decline in all crash deaths.

While self-reported drunken driving incidents have fallen in recent years, the study found that levels remain disproportionately high among young men, binge drinkers and drivers who do not wear seatbelts.

Sixty percent of respondents who admitted to driving impaired said they had done so within the past 30 days, but researchers pointed out that some people said they drove under the influence every day.

Men between 21 and 34, who make up 11 percent of the population, reported 32 percent of drunken driving episodes, according to the study. And those who reported not always using seat belts were four times as likely as those who say they do to driving impaired.

Authorities say driving after consuming alcohol is risky, even if it does not lead to a crash causing injury or death. State penalties for driving under the influence even once may include steep fines, jail time and driver license suspension. And a conviction for drunken driving can make it a challenge to find cheap insurance for young drivers or other motorists.

Having a DUI on record can indicate to an insurer that the driver may be a high risk, and premiums will almost always be higher for this group.

In some states, motorists with DUI convictions are required to carry higher levels of protection than other drivers.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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