High Death Rates for Child Passengers of Drunk Drivers

Child Safety A child dying from a drunk driving car crash is a tragic accident-but the scenario gets even more horrific when the statistics of these scenarios are brought to light. According to Dr. Kyran Quinlan, a Chicago pediatrician, two-thirds of the time, a child killed in a drunk driving accident is a passenger of the drunk driver. “People think of a drunk driver in one car and a family in another,” Dr. Quinlan says, “the drunk driver runs a lights and hits the family vehicle and there’s a tragedy.” However, the statistics challenge that perception.

Quinlan and his colleagues thoroughly analyzed data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, focusing on data involving children under age 15 who were killed in a traffic crash between 2001 and 2010. There were 2,344 child deaths due to drunk driving crashes between 2001 and 2010, discovered Quinlan, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Of the 2,344 child deaths, it was found that 1,515 of them placed the child in the car of the drunk driver.

Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) asserts that drunk driving with a child on the car is on par with child abuse. “This study highlights the need for additional penalties for those convicted of drunk driving with a child passenger,” she adds. The study also found that, of the child passengers in the drunk driver’s cars, nearly two-thirds of them were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash. “The more a driver has been drinking, the less likely a child was buckled up in the crash in which they died,” Quinlan said. What’s more, one-third of the drunk drivers assessed by the study did not have a valid driver’s license at the time of their accident.

Research found that Texas and California had the most children killed from being transported by a drunk driver. California had 135 deaths during the time period specified, and Texas had 272. When considering population, South Dakota and New Mexico had the highest percentage of children dying with a drunk driving. MADD president Jan Wither’s adds that South Dakota is one of four states that did not get a star from their organization in their 2014 Report to the Nation, which provides a list of states that have proper child endangerment laws or statutes in place.

The study also reported that, over the course of the decade, overall child deaths involving a drunk driver have decreased by 41 percent. Still, hundreds of children die or are injured because of drunk driving. Dr. Quinlan adds that tougher drunk driving laws, minimum drinking ages, and taxes on alcohol are all strategies that may have made some states safer than others.

“We’re hoping that states may take a look at their numbers, now that they have them, and consider renewed efforts to get at this,” Quinan says, “thirty years ago, it was a completely different culture than it is today.

People used to talk about having one for the road, and that is just not funny anymore.” MADD president Jan Withers agrees, stating, “MADD encourages all states to make driving drunk with a child passenger a felony offense, and require an ignition interlock for those convicted.”


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