Teen drinking and driving down 54 percent since 1991

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Teen drinking has dropped 54 percent over the last 20 years thanks to stricter laws -- and higher gas prices.

In the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Vital Signs report published on Oct. 2, it was revealed that the number of teens aged 16 and older that had drank and drove went down from 22.3 percent in 1991 to only 10.3 percent in 2011. About 85 percent of teens who admitted to drinking and driving also said they binge drank, meaning consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting.

"There is good news in some of the data here," CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said during a press conference according to HealthDay.

"I chalk it up to serious concerted efforts to save these lives," said Jan Withers, the national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told Businessweek.

Researchers lauded the fact that states became stricter on enforcing the minimum drinking age of 21. This included ID checks by retailers, zero tolerance laws and more states adopting graduated driver's licenses for teens that requires several levels of restrictions before a teen gets a full license.

But, another reason that teens aren't getting behind the wheel after drinking is because they're driving less overall. The report pointed out that the number of high school seniors who didn't drive during an average week rose from 15 percent in 1991 to 22 percent in 2011. Since teens are less likely to be employed because of the recession, they have less disposable income to spend on gasoline, the researchers said it may have accounted for the decline on driving since 200.

The statistics were taken from the 1991 - 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS), which surveyed between 10,900 to 16,400 teens each year. Teens were asked to respond whether or not they had completed the activity (for example, drinking and driving) in the past 30 days before being surveyed.

While it may seem like good news, experts are quick to point out that still means that one in 10 teens is drinking and driving or about 950,000 teenagers. Overall, 26 percent of teens admitted said they binge drank, meaning consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting. But, when it came to teens who drive and drank, the number of binge drinkers went up to 84 percent.

Male students were more likely to drink and drive than female students, with males 18 and older reporting the highest rates at 18 percent of their population. Whites and Hispanics had a higher prevalence than black students. States where drinking and driving was most prevalent included states in the upper Midwest, the western region of Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico; South Carolina; and Gulf Coast states, except for Florida.

The researchers pointed out that car crashes are still the leading cause of deaths for teens, with more than 2,000 teens dying in a car accident every year. People between the ages of 16 to 20 are 32 times more likely to die in a single-car crash and 13 times more likely to be in a car crash where the driver lives but a passenger dies if their blood alcohol level is over the legal limit of 0.08 in most states.

One out of every five teens who died in a fatal crash had alcohol in their system in 2010.

"Drinking and driving is risky for any driver, but especially for young teens," Frieden said to HealthDay. "Young drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 than when they have not been drinking."

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