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Bad Economy Could Be Curbing Drunk Driving

In a silver-lining effect, the tough economy could be responsible for a slump in drunk driving in recent years.

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By Anthony Daconti

10/05/11

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The tough economy might cause many to hit the bottle, but a new federal study suggests a silver-lining effect could also be keeping them from getting behind the wheel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a major decline in alcohol-impaired driving on Tuesday, which could be almost directly related to the economic slowdown, much as New York's cocaine consumption was found to have slumped in line with the economy. People with less disposable income may well be likelier to drink at home, rather than go out and get on the roads. The evidence for the drunk driving slowdown includes a 2010 national telephone survey of 451,000 people that estimated an approximate 112 million alcohol-impaired driving incidents last year—a 30% plunge since its peak in 2006, and the lowest level of incidents since 1993. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the CDC, explained that although the exact cause of the dramatic decline is uncertain, “One possibility is that people are drinking at home and therefore driving less after drinking.” The good news did not, however, suggest a significant drop in overall drinking, cautioned Gwen Bergen, a CDC behavioral scientist. According to the study, an estimated four million adults, or 1.8% of the US adult population, admitted to driving while intoxicated at least once in the last year—so there's still room for improvement. Men are responsible for 81% of all drinking and driving incidents, with young men aged between 21 and 34 racking up 32% of total incidents. White and unmarried people are also likelier than average to drive when drunk. The Midwest is America's drunk-drivingest region, with an eye-opening 643 self-reported episodes per 1,000 population in 2010. The CDC recommends taking additional measures to further reduce these incidents. Drinkers who still get behind the wheel can most likely expect more sobriety checkpoints and raised alcohol taxes, while establishments that serve alcohol can anticipate stricter liability laws. 

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