Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

CDC report: Men responsible for 81% of drunk driving episodes

October 7, 2011 - 10:51 AM
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Drunk eyes. (Photo: flickr/davidsledge)

Why are men more likely than women to report drunk-driving episodes? They account for four out of five of the self-reported drunk driving episodes in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention — 81%. Why? Is it a matter of self-reporting? Is it a matter of men taking more risks? Of men more often acting as the driver when a couple is wasted? Men are more likely to commit serious crimes such as murder and rape ...and also appear to be the ones who stagger back into their cars after a few drinks. Perhaps it's a matter of bravado or simply mistaken perceptions of their own drunk driving abilities? 

That's just one of the many questions raised by glancing over the CDC's report from earlier this week about drunk driving in America.

Here are the sometimes fascinating, sometimes damning, and sometimes encouraging numbers they highlight:

• There were 11,000 fatalities from drunk driving last year, the third highest cause of automotive death. To contrast, recall that there were about 56,000 annual highway deaths from drunk driving reported in the late '60s.  There were 13,491 drunk-driving fatalities in 2006.

• Drunk drivers got behind the wheel an estimated 112 million times in 2010.

• These self-reported episodes of drunk driving have gone down in recent years — down 30%, in fact, over the last five years, continuing trends I've observed elsewhere. See my post of transit history on how the U.S. successfully managed to demonize the idea of driving drunk over the past half century, with studies, PSAs, and repeatedly hammering home the message that this behavior constitutes a threat.

• "About 5% of adults reported binge drinking at least four times per month, yet accounted for 55% of all alcohol-impaired driving episodes." This statistic explains why young men ages 21-34 (making up 11% of the U.S. population) account for 32% of these drunk driving episodes the CDC looked at. Also, likely, because young men are more likely to party, drink, and stay active in such a dangerous way. Binge drinking is absolutely a cultural part of growing up for many young people these days, as in the past.

• The CDC fails to tells us much about D.C.'s own drunk-driving stats due to the small size of our population. Other sources, however, reveal the number of drunk driving fatalities here since 1982 up through 2009. Here's the D.C. DMV's own page on drunk driving law. In 2009, the last year recorded on the charts, there were 12 alcohol-related traffic deaths out of 29 total traffic fatalities. The numbers were occasionally three times as high in some years close to a decade ago.

• The Midwest likes a good drink. They account for more drunk-driving episodes than any other region in the country, with 643 per 1,000 population (nationally: 479 per 1,000). Yet the highest state appears to be North Dakota (988 per 1,000) Delaware (843 per 1,000) and Massachusetts (835 per 1,000).

• How to effectively intervene? Sobriety checkpoints and ignition interlocks, the CDC says, help. Also "enforcement of 0.08 BAC laws and minimum legal drinking age laws, multicomponent community-based programs."

• The PR campaigns against drunk driving has paid off in terms of public opinion, it seems. One Department of Transportation survey reports that 75% of Americans support sobriety checkpoints.

My own thought is that the CDC report seems to reinforce the notion that the U.S. government and other agencies have effectively continued to tackle the problem of drunk driving but that the issue remains a problem. What we also see are lots of cultural points — the fact that men allegedly drive drunk so much more than women, the traditions surrounding binge drinking, the regional differences.

And how accurate are all these statistics? I imagine self-reporting is valid up to a point ... but with an issue like drunk driving, what elements influence how it's reported? Perhaps women drive drunk more often than we think — they just report it less in this CDC study. Generational, racial, and other factors could also contribute to how survey respondents answer these types of questions. The CDC conducted the analysis and estimates with numbers from the 2010 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey.

Give the report a read and see what you think.

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