Drunk driving: It’s a man’s world

The Centers for Disease Control says drunk driving is down. In a report released today, the CDC says a nationwide survey of adults shows 1 in 50 acknowledged driving drunk in 2010, for a total of about 112 million instances of drunk driving.

The report says most of the drunks were men, who were responsible for 4 of every 5 episodes, and men ages 21-34 were responsible for about a third of all instances, even though they make up just 11 percent of the adult population.

Guess what section of the country is the poster child for drunk drivers?

The Midwest Census region had the highest annual rate of alcohol-impaired driving episodes at 643 per 1,000 population, which was significantly higher than the rates in all other regions (Figure 2). Excluding 12 states and DC with small sample sizes and potentially unstable rates, four of the seven states with rates of alcohol-impaired driving that were significantly higher than the U.S. rate overall were in the Midwest (Table 2). The Midwest also had the highest prevalence of binge drinking at 16.5%, which was significantly higher than the prevalence in the Northeast (15.1%), West (14.3%), or South (12.6%).

This isn’t surprising, considering that the upper Midwest is the biggest binge-drinking section of the country and binge drinking is responsible for a large share of the drunk driving episodes, according to the CDC.

The agency also reported that people who say they don’t always use seatbelts are four times more likely to drive drunk.

Seventy-six percent of persons living in states with a primary seatbelt law (which allows police to stop drivers and ticket them solely because occupants are unbelted) reported always wearing a seatbelt, whereas 58% of their counterparts living in states with a secondary law (which only allows police to issue seat belt tickets if drivers were stopped from some other violation) or no seatbelt law (New Hampshire) reported always wearing a seatbelt.

Minnesota has a primary seat belt law, although there was an effort in the Legislature this year to repeal it.

The CDC report on lower instances of drunk driving corresponds to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s statistics for 2010, which showed a drop in drunk driving deaths in the state to the lowest number on record. Last year, 131 motorists were killed in alcohol related crashes, a 21-percent drop from 166 deaths five years ago.

But the percentage of total traffic deaths in Minnesota related to alcohol has not budged much, according to the Department of Public Safety.

One in seven current Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record, and one in 17 has two or more DWIs, according to the DPS.

Why the drop? The DPS says stronger DWI sanctions for all repeat offenders and for first-timers who blow .16 on the tests for alcohol-concentration level is part of it. “Under the new sanctions (effective since July 1), these offenders must use ignition interlock for at least a year or face at least one year without driving privileges. Interlock requires the driver to provide a breath sample in order to start the vehicle,” the DPS said in a news release last month.

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