Context: Motor vehicle-related injury is the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 1 to 24 years in the United States. Approximately 24% of child traffic deaths involve alcohol.
Objective: To examine characteristics of crashes involving child passenger deaths and injuries associated with drinking drivers to identify opportunities for prevention.
Design, setting, and participants: Descriptive epidemiological analysis of 1985-1996 datafrom the Fatality Analysis Reporting System on deaths among US child passengers (aged 0-14 years) and 1988-1996 data from the General Estimates System on nonfatal injuries.
Main outcome measures: Child passenger death or injury by driver characteristics (eg, driver age, blood alcohol concentration, and driving history).
Results: In 1985-1996, there were 5555 child passenger deaths involving a drinking driver. Of these deaths, 3556 (64.0%) occurred while the child was riding with a drinking driver; 67.0% of these drinking drivers were old enough to be the parent or caregiver of the child. Of all drivers transporting a child who died, drinking drivers were more likely than nondrinking drivers to have had a previous license suspension (17.1% vs 7.1%) or conviction for driving while intoxicated (7.9% vs 1.2%). Child restraint use decreased as both the child's age and the blood alcohol concentration of the child's driver increased. In 1988-1996, an estimated 149,000 child passengers were nonfatally injured in crashes involving a drinking driver. Of these, 58,000 (38.9%) were riding with a drinking driver when injured in the crash.
Conclusions: These data indicate that the majority of drinking driver-related child passenger deaths in the United States involve a child riding unrestrained in the same vehicle with a drinking driver. Typically, the drinking driver transporting the child is old enough to be the child's parent or caregiver.