Driving under the influence down: Does economy deserve credit?

You already know that auto makers use crash dummies to test vehicle safety. But did you know that some of the "dummies" are actually human bodies? Auto makers have used cadavers to test bumpers, air bags, seatbelts, etc. Crashing cars into dead bodies sounds messy, but the work has saved many lives. How many? According to Roach, scientists estimate that the vehicle safety improvements yielded by cadaver research have saved 8,500 lives a year since 1987. For every cadaver that rode a "crash slde" to test three-point seat belts, 61 lives per year have been saved. For every cadaver that took an air bag to the face, 147 people per year survive otherwise fatal head-ons. istockphoto

istockphoto

(CBS/AP) The bad economy may be good for driving safety. A federal report released on Tuesday says drunken driving incidents have dropped 30 percent over the past five years, and last year were at their lowest mark in nearly two decades.

PICTURES - Drinking and driving: 18 states with highest rates

Evidence suggests that people are still drinking as heavily as in years past, so some may simply be finding cheaper ways of imbibing than by going to bars, nightclubs and restaurants.

"One possibility is that people are drinking at home more and driving less after drinking," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said.

The CDC statistics are based on a 2010 telephone survey of about 210,000 U.S. adults. 

Nearly 1 in 50 said they'd driven drunk at least once in the previous month. That equates to about 4 million Americans driving drunk last year.

About 60 percent said they drove drunk just once, but some said they did it daily. That led to a CDC estimate of more than 112 million episodes of drunk driving in 2010, or more than 300,000 incidents a day.

Though CDC officials lamented that finding, it was the lowest estimate since the survey question was first asked in 1993 - and down significantly from the 161 million incidents in the peak year of 2006.

Who's most likely to drive drunk? Young men. Men 21 to 34 years of age account for 11 percent of the U.S. population but 32 percent of the drunken driving incidents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also seen signs of an apparent decline in drunk driving. According to that agency's latest data, the number of people killed in U.S. crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers dropped from 11,711 in 2008 to 10,839 in 2009.

"While the nation has made great strides in reducing drunk driving over the years, it continues to be one of the leading causes of death and injury on America's roads - claiming a life every 48 minutes," added David Strickland, the agency's administrator, in a prepared statement.

The CDC has more on drinking and driving.

  • David W Freeman

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