The growing awareness of alcohol hazards has made people more cautious of their drinking habits, particularly young adults. At present young adults have the highest prevalence of alcohol consumption than any other age group. They also drink more heavily, experience more negative consequences, and engage in more harmful activities, specifically drunk driving. Although surveys have documented a decline in recent years, consumption rates remain highest from late teen years to the late twenties (Johnston1-3). Despite the long-term decline since 1982 in alcohol related traffic deaths, a 4 percent increase occurred between 1994 and 1995 among young adults age 21 and over (Hingson 4).
As alcohol-impaired driving persists, legal and community initiatives intervene to help reduce the problem, as well as, continuing research on possible solutions.
Problems Posed by Alcohol-Impaired Driving:
The biggest problem with drunk driving by young adults is the high rate of traffic accidents. Although young drivers ages 16 through 25 makeup only 15% of U.S. licensed drivers, they constitute 30 percent of all alcohol-related driving fatalities. This is double the amount of licensed drivers in that age group.
Inexperience with both drinking and driving may contribute to this disproportionate rate. Nationwide in 1996, people ages 15 to 24 died in fatal motor vehicle crashes and 45 percent of those deaths were a result of alcohol (NHTSA 4). So it comes to no surprise that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States for people younger than 25 (NCHS 98).
Specific factors that pertain to this fatal problem are blood alcohol content (BAC), failure to wear seatbelts, and inexperienced driving. Of all these, the blood alcohol content or BAC level causes the most risk to young adults drinking and driving. National research comparing BAC of drivers in single-vehicle crashes with that of drivers not in crashes reveals that each .
02% increase in content level nearly doubles the risk of fatal crash involvement. For drivers under age 21, the risk increases more rapidly with each drink consumed (Hingson 52).
In addition, alcohol-related traffic accidents not only cause high death rates, but they cost society % 45 billion annually in hospital costs, rehabilitation expenses, and lost productivity (NHTSA 3). It also affects traffic safety, in that the amount of arrests of intoxicated drivers prevents the police from arresting other traffic violators. In 1995 more than 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence, this totaled 10 percent of all arrests made in that year (Hingson 1).
Problems caused by all these factors have lead to many improvements in traffic safety.
Social and Legal Interventions:
Since 1982 the legal and social interventions have had a major involvement in decreasing the rate of intoxicated drivers. A key social change behind efforts to reduce drunk driving was the establishments of grass roots organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), and Remove Intoxicated Drivers (RID). These organizations offer support for victims of drunk drivers, as well as involving the public by giving education seminars, monitoring and providing research findings, and presenting information to State legislators (Hingson 219). As a result of their efforts more than 2,000 state laws have been passed to reduce alcohol-impaired driving (NHTSA 1).
Another example of community intervention is that of Massachusetts, Saving Lives Program, it reduced alcohol-related traffic deaths during its first five years by 42 percent relative to the rest of the state, the greatest declines were found among college-age drivers (Hingson 7).
Legal efforts to reduce alcohol-impaired driving have sought after deterrence laws. These laws prevent alcohol-involved driving by swift, certain, and severe penalties if warranted. They also seek to prevent convicted DUI offenders from repeating their offense (Hingson 228). The general deterrence laws seem to target drinking among persons under age 21 (OMalley 483). The following information was obtained from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
1 MLDA of 21.
This law states that no persons under the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 is allowed to buy alcohol. NHTSA estimated that MLDAs of 21 have prevented more than 14,800 traffic deaths since 1976, approximately 700 to 1,000 deaths annually for the past decade.
2 Criminal Per Se Laws. Every state except Massachusetts and South Carolina has adopted laws .