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Half of Traffic Deaths in Children and Young People Related to Alcohol; Stronger Laws Reduce Traffic Mortalities

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among children and adolescents. A study “Alcohol Policies and Alcohol-Related Motor Vehicle Crash Fatalities Among Young People in the U.S.," published in the March 2017 Pediatrics (published online Feb. 13), found that state policies were effective tools in reducing mortality. Researchers looked at 84,756 motor vehicle fatalities of young people under the age of 21 in the United Stated between 2000 and 2013. They found 23,757 (28.0 percent) were killed in accidents where the driver had an alcohol level above the legal limit, and half died in accidents in which the driver tested positive with any level of alcohol greater than zero. Researchers found that states with stronger alcohol policies had fewer deaths. This is the first study to take a comprehensive look at the total impact of relevant policies and laws in different states, and it suggests that stronger laws are effective in reducing deaths. Zero tolerance laws, which prohibit driving after any amount of drinking for individuals 20 years of age or younger, have been associated with a decrease in death in motor vehicle crashes by approximately 20 percent. Research also suggests that limiting late-night driving and passengers for young drivers may also be effective tools for reducing mortality in motor vehicle crashes. Still, study authors found that almost half of all young people who died were passengers, and in many cases, they were driven by an adult. The authors concluded that while there is strong evidence that stronger policies can reduce motor vehicle deaths of young people, it is important to not only focus on policies that target young drivers, but also those that reduce drinking among adults who then go on to drive young people while under the influence.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.

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