From Bad to Worse: Kids and Impaired Driving Crashes

By Danielle Roeber

dontdrinkanddriveGetting together with family and friends on Independence Day is a tradition. And with this July 4th falling on a Friday, a lot of people will be on the roads to enjoy a long weekend. At this time of year, it’s not uncommon to hear messages about celebrating safely and not driving after drinking. As we prepare to travel, I want to bring to your attention something that may not be as well-known. According to an article released last month in Pediatrics,of those children who died in impaired driving crashes in the last decade, 65 percent were riding with the impaired driver. And the median blood alcohol concentration of the impaired drivers was 0.15, almost twice the legal limit.

What could be worse than adults driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs with children in the vehicle? As it turns out, those kids are also unlikely to be restrained by seat belts or child safety seats, putting them at even greater risk of injury or death in the event of a crash. In those cases where researchers could determine restraint use, 61 percent of the children killed while riding with an impaired driver were not restrained. Meanwhile, 71 percent of those impaired drivers survived the crash and had to live with the consequences. How might the use of a child seat or a seat belt have made a difference?

It gets even worse. A similar analysis was released in 2000 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers examined child passenger deaths from 1985-1996 and found eerily similar results; 64 percent of those child passengers killed in impaired driving crashes were riding with the impaired driver. And again, many of those child passengers who died were unrestrained.

What will it take to keep impaired drivers from putting children at risk? Increasing restraint use is certainly critical. Another intervention worth considering is mandating ignition interlocks for all individuals convicted of driving while impaired (DWI); many of the impaired drivers who were transporting children had prior DWI convictions. You don’t have to wait for a law, however. If you plan to drink this weekend or anytime in the future, make a plan for how you will get you and your family home safely. Make sure anyone transporting your children understands the risks and doesn’t get behind the wheel after drinking. No one should have to pay for someone’s decision to drive impaired, least of all our children.

Danielle Roeber is the Safety Advocacy Division Chief in NTSB’s Office of Communications


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