I. Introduction

Drinking and driving in the United States, as measured by alcohol involvement in fatal crashes in NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System, decreased substantially from 1982 to 1998. The number of traffic fatalities involving alcohol dropped 36 percent, from 25,165 in 1982 to 16,020 in 1998. Traffic fatalities involving at least one driver or pedestrian with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.10 or above dropped 39%, from 20,356 to 12,494 (NHTSA, 1999).

This decrease was led by young drivers under the age of 21. The number of young drivers in fatal crashes with a positive BAC dropped 61 percent, from 4,393 in 1982 to 1,714 in 1998. While 43 percent of young drivers in fatal crashes had a positive BAC in 1982, only 21 percent did in 1998. In contrast, the number of drivers in fatal crashes with a positive BAC age 21 and above dropped 33 percent, from 16,814 in 1982 to 11,228 in 1998 - a substantial decrease, but far less than the decrease for drivers under 21.

Why did youth drinking and driving decrease so substantially, and so much more than drinking and driving by older drivers? Was this a national effect or did some states or regions do better than others? How much is due to laws directed at youth, especially the National Minimum Drinking Age and state zero tolerance laws, both of which were implemented in all states during this period? How much is due to youth programs directed at drinking and driving, such as SADD (originally Students Against Driving Drunk, now Students Against Destructive Decisions) and the large variety of programs promoting healthy choices and lifestyles for youth? Are there other factors not specifically directed at youth drinking and driving that have contributed? Most importantly, what can be learned from this success that can be used to reduce youth drinking and driving even further, that can be applied to reduce drinking and driving by other drivers, or that can guide safety and health activities in other areas?

This report addresses these issues. Specifically, it reviews the data on youth drinking and driving, analyzes differences across the states, and examines evidence on the effectiveness of various laws and programs that may have affected youth drinking and driving.

The report is organized as follows: