By Steve Reinberg
TUESDAY, May 29, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- States that get tough on drunk driving see drops in alcohol-related car crash deaths, new research shows.
About 30 percent of deaths in car crashes occur when one or more drivers has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher -- the legal definition of driving while impaired in the United States, the investigators explained. An additional 20 percent of deaths involve alcohol among those whose blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.
"Given the risks involved with alcohol use, strengthening alcohol control policies could help prevent many crash deaths, including the 40 percent of deaths that affect victims who are not themselves driving while intoxicated," said lead study author Dr. Timothy Naimi. He's a physician at the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center.
For the study, Naimi and his colleagues used data on crash deaths from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In addition, state alcohol policies were gathered using the Alcohol Policy Scale, a tool developed at the center that analyzes an alcohol policy environment based on 29 alcohol control policies.
The investigators found that in states with more restrictive alcohol policies, the likelihood of alcohol-related crash deaths decreased.
For example, a 1 percent increase in restrictive policies led to a 1 percent drop in the likelihood that a crash was alcohol-related. Across all states, a 10 percent increase in the restrictiveness of policies would translate into about 800 fewer deaths annually, Naimi's team reported.
Moreover, stronger policies also reduced deaths in crashes that involved drivers whose blood alcohol level was below the legal limit.
"Although not reflected in our current laws, the risk of crashes starts to increase at blood alcohol levels well below 0.08 percent, so stronger policies offer a way to reduce those deaths as well," Naimi said in a medical center news release.
Most developed nations have limits for blood alcohol of 0.05 percent or less, and recently the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the National Academies of Sciences have called for lowering drinking limits for driving in the United States, the researchers said.
The report was published online May 29 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.