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40 million in US driving drunk

By Ronnie Koenig

From billboards to PSAs to TV commercials, it seems like awareness surrounding the risks of drunk and drugged driving is everywhere. So it may come as a surprise to learn that 30 million Americans are driving drunk each year, while another 10 million are getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs.

According to a report released last Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrations (SAMHSA), in some states, the number of drunk and drugged drivers tops 20 percent. It’s a startling statistic, considering all of the media attention this problem has been given.

The problem seems to be the most serious among drivers aged 16 to 25. According to the survey, drivers in that age group had a high rate of drunk driving (19.5 percent) compared to those aged 26 and over (11.8 percent). The 16 to 25 year olds also had a higher rate of drugged driving than the over-26 group (11.4 percent vs. 2.8 percent).

The figures from the study are based on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, which involves reports from more than 423,000 people aged 16 and over.

There has been a small drop in the overall number of people driving while drunk or using drugs. Still, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations Fatal Accident Reporting System says that one in three car accident deaths is the result of driving while high on an illegal substance.

Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Statistics and Quality, says that although the numbers are going in the right direction, the statistics are still sobering.

“When you get behind the wheel after drinking or driving, there are three possible outcomes,” he told AOL Health. “One is that you get home safe and think – I didn’t get caught. Two is that you get caught and suffer some financial penalty and embarrassment. Three is that you get in an accident, and someone is hurt or killed.”

Delany says that programs like SoberRide or using a designated driver are possible solutions, but that there needs to be awareness around the clock, not just on New Year’s Eve or during prom season. “Parents need to get involved and talk to their kids before they get in the car. Kids really do connect with what their parents say. Do it in a rational way – sit down and talk about your expectations of your child as a driver, and about your expectations when it comes to drinking and using drugs.”

While many people have criticized the entertainment industry for depicting buzzed driving as something cool or humorous, Delany says that SAMHSA actually awards films with characters that accurately depict the consequences of drug and alcohol use with the PRISM Awards.

He says the clergy, the community and even doctors and nurses should get involved in putting a stop to drunk and drugged driving. “It’s about parents sitting around the dinner table with their kids and groups talking in a matter-of-fact way at school. When you think about the fact that in a year, over 12,000 people were killed in drug and alcohol-related driving accidents…those are all people’s parents, or kids, or husbands and wives who are just no longer around.”

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