Stop Blaming the Other Driver
May 2, 2000 -- Two new studies provide a chilling counter-punch to the
notion that most children killed in alcohol-related wrecks are the victims of
strangers: Two-thirds of the children who perish in such crashes were riding in
the same car with the driver who had been drinking, and rarely had they been
"We simply can't point fingers at someone else. As a society, we need to
step up and say 'It's us.' It's not them," researcher
Robert Foss, PhD, tells WebMD. "That is probably the most important message
out of both these studies." Foss, a co-author of one of the studies, is
with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Just about every other day in this country, a child is killed while
driving with a drunken driver," adds the lead researcher of the other
study, Kyran P. Quinlan, MD, MPH, a pediatrician with the federal CDC in
Atlanta. "These deaths are largely preventable. Regardless of the law, we
would encourage families to adopt a zero tolerance toward drinking and driving
while children are in the car."
The studies appear in the May 3 Journal of the American Medical
Association, and while the research methods were somewhat different, both
reached similar conclusions about the deaths and injuries of children riding in
cars whose drivers had consumed alcohol.
One study also looked more pointedly at what percentage of drinking drivers
were under the legal drinking age of 21. The legal limit for driving while
intoxicated varies for adults across the nation. In 31 states, the
blood-alcohol level for drunken driving is .10; it is .08 in the others. For
people under 21, though, there is really no allowable blood-alcohol level.
Using federal data from 1991-1996, the North Carolina researchers found
there were 3,300 alcohol-related deaths among children under 16 during that
period, and of those, about 66% were riding with drivers who had been drinking.
In addition, they calculated that 30% of the children who died were with
drinking drivers younger than 21. Overall, more male than female drivers were
involved in alcohol-related deaths.
"Since the early 1980s, advocacy groups like MADD [Mothers Against Drunk
Driving] have really increased the spotlight on drinking and driving, and,
unfortunately, they have created the image of the killer mowing down innocent
victims. In two-thirds of the cases, it could have been the kids' parents,"
Foss tells WebMD. Neither group of researchers determined how many of the
drivers were actually the children's parents or caregivers.
Foss and his colleagues propose raising the tax on beer and other alcohol
products to discourage youth from purchasing them.
Adds Lew Margolis, MD, MPH, a pediatrician and associate professor in the
Department of Maternal and Child Health at UNC-Chapel Hill: "We need to be
concerned about whoever is driving our children; whether they are over 21 or
under 21." Margolis was the lead researcher on the North Carolina