CHICAGO - The number of children killed by drunken motorists has declined substantially in recent years but the biggest threat remains their own drivers, not strangers in other vehicles, a study found.
The data show most impaired drivers survived these crashes, suggesting many kids might have survived if they'd been wearing seat belts or using car seats.
Researchers analyzed 2000-10 government traffic deaths data and found 2,344 passengers younger than age 15 were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver. Two-thirds were riding in cars driven by drunken drivers, but those cases declined by 40 percent during the decade.
Texas and California had the most deaths among kids riding with drunken drivers, but rates were higher in smaller, less populous states.
Almost two-thirds of kids who died while riding with drunken drivers were not wearing seat belts. And many of the drivers had no valid license. Most were adults.
Some of the same researchers published a similar analysis 14 years ago that found close to 6,000 child deaths involving a drunken driver from 1985-1996. Like the new numbers, two-thirds of those deaths were in kids riding with a drunken driver.
The new study was led by Dr. Kyran Quinlan of Northwestern University and researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was published online Monday in Pediatrics.
The researchers note that most states have laws that provide stiffer DUI penalties for driving with a child, but suggest the laws need to be uniformly enforced. They also suggest better methods for preventing adults without drivers' licenses from getting behind the wheel, and other proven deterrents including more sobriety checkpoints on roadways.