Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among young
people in the United States. 40% of deadly car crashes involve
a drunk driver in Massachusetts, and the state falls within the top 25% for rates of young people killed in a drunk driving
Stronger alcohol policies protect young people from dying in crashes
caused by drunk driving according to researchers at Boston Medical
Center. The study, which is published online in the journal Pediatrics
supports the importance of comprehensive alcohol control policies to
reduce the number of young people who die in alcohol-related crashes.
‘With stronger alcohol control policies at the state level, researchers noticed a significantly lower likelihood of alcohol-related deaths.’
"Half of all young people who die in crashes are driven by someone
who has been drinking," says lead author Scott Hadland, MD, a
pediatrician at BMC and the study's corresponding author. "But with
stronger alcohol policies at the state level, we saw a significantly
lower likelihood of alcohol-related deaths."
The study used an alcohol policy scale that assessed 29 alcohol
policies across the United States, which were designed to reduce alcohol
consumption or prevent impaired driving, and cross referenced them with
the number of people under 21 who died in crashes involving alcohol,
approximately 85,000, over the course of 13 years. States were ranked
based on how restrictive their alcohol laws were, including higher
alcohol taxes and zero-tolerance policies for young people drinking and
"We've seen research that shows the relationship between specific
alcohol laws and drunk driving deaths, but no one has looked at the
broader picture of the policy environment in different states," said
Timothy Naimi, a general internal medicine physician and
alcohol epidemiologist at BMC who served as senior author of the study.
Researchers found as state alcohol laws became more restrictive, the
likelihood of a young person being killed in a drunk driving crash
decreased and led to less alcohol consumption as a whole. Additionally,
almost half of underage youth who died in alcohol-related crashes were
passengers, not drivers; and about 80% of those passengers were being
driven by adults aged 21 or older who had been drinking.
Most of the deadly crashes happened during the weekend, in the
evening or at night. The impact of state alcohol policies on drunk
driving deaths was consistent for males and females, and generally held
for both drivers and passengers.
"When it comes to preventing impaired driving and deaths of young
people, alcohol control policies clearly matter," says Hadland, who is
also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of
Medicine. "We found that those policies don't have to necessarily be
ones that prevent drunk driving, or that specifically target young
"Since most young people who died as passengers in a car were driven
by an adult over 21 who had been drinking, alcohol laws that prevent
adult drinking are also critical," said Naimi who is also an associate
professor of medicine and public health at Boston University School of
Medicine and Public Health. "We must also focus on strategies that
reduce excessive drinking, rather than focusing exclusively on
interventions to prevent driving among those who are already impaired."