Impaired Parents, Guardians Putting Children at Risk

Adolescents Who Die in DUI Crashes Likely Know the Driver

teddy-bear-pavementAlthough efforts to curb the deaths of children from drunk driving have paid off in general, with the death rate declining significantly over the last several years, drunk drivers continue to pose a substantial threat to children in the United States. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that when children are killed in drunk driving accidents, it is due to the actions of those who are driving them, not those of strangers who are driving other vehicles.

Researchers for this study, which will appear in the June 2014 issue of Pediatrics, looked at data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration relating to children under the age of 15 who died in traffic accidents between 2001 and 2010, which numbered 2,344 child passengers. Over this 10-year period, children’s deaths caused by a drunk driver decreased by 41 percent, which is a huge decrease to occur over only one decade. However, of those children who were killed in crashes that involved at least one drunk driver, the majority of these children (65 percent) were riding in the car with the drunk driver. Furthermore, most of the children (61 percent) who were riding with impaired drivers were not wearing seat belts or in child restraint systems at the time of the crash. The drunk drivers involved in these crashes, however, usually survived them, which points to the conclusion that these children might have survived had they been properly restrained. Fully one-third of these impaired drivers did not even have a valid driver’s license at the time of the fatal accident.

The study further found that although Texas and California had the highest number of children who died during this time period as a result of riding with a drunk driver, South Dakota and New Mexico had the highest rates of children who died while riding with drunk drivers. From this data, researchers concluded that while accident-related child fatalities involving a drunk driver have definitely declined, drunk drivers still pose a very real threat to children’s safety, a risk that tends to vary with the child’s state of residence.

As a result of this study, researchers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, a national proponent of children’s health and safety, proposes that states and local communities take all steps necessary to avoid these needless fatalities by enacting legislation that is designed to both target impaired drivers with children and increase the mandatory usage of seat belts and other safety restraint systems for children of all sizes and ages. While some states do have stiffer penalties built into their laws for adults who are convicted of DUI with a child in their vehicles, others do not, and these laws are not always uniformly enforced. Other measures also may help in preventing these fatal accidents, such as establishing more sobriety checkpoints on American roadways and creating additional penalties for those who choose to drive without a license.