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If you spend an evening out on a Friday or Saturday, you’re likely to spot a lot of teenagers. Unfortunately, according to a recent study in the scientific journal Pediatrics, that’s also when teens face the greatest risk of dying in a fatal car accident and a lot of those accidents involve alcohol. Researchers concluded that more restrictive alcohol policies are needed to increase safety.

Study Finds States with More Restrictive Laws are Safer

For the study, researchers used the Alcohol Policy Scale (APS), which assesses the 29 alcohol policies across 50 states and Washington D.C. They then examined APS scores in relation to traffic fatalities among teens between 2000 and 2013, limiting their review to crashes that included at least one driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher.

They found that nearly 85,000 teen fatalities occurred during the study period. Of those, nearly 24,000 were alcohol related (about one in four), and resulted in 11,006 driver fatalities and 10,212 passenger fatalities. There were also 2,539 pedestrians, cyclists, and others who were killed.

People killed in these accidents were predominantly male (72.7%) and between the ages of 18-20 (65.5%). States that had more restrictive laws against drinking and driving had fewer fatalities. The states with the toughest policies had a 9 percent decrease in teen crash deaths.

“These findings are consistent with previous studies in which we found that states with restrictive alcohol policy environments have lower levels of binge drinking and self-reported impaired driving,” the researchers stated.

Researchers also found that most alcohol-related crash fatalities occurred at night or on the weekends, usually after midnight.

Study Highlights Important Safety Findings for Teen Drivers

In examining the findings, the researchers made a few additional observances:

  • Legal blood-alcohol limits of less than 0.08% are appropriate for underage youth drivers, because they are less experienced and may be at risk for getting into an accident after drinking only small amounts.
  • Zero-tolerance laws, which prohibit driving after any amount of drinking for people under the age of 20, have been associated with a 20% decrease in mortality from motor vehicle crashes.
  • Since most teen accidents occur at night, graduated licensing laws that place restrictions on driving after dark make sense.
  • Because many teens who die in auto accidents are passengers rather than drivers, limiting passengers of underage drivers may also be appropriate.

The researchers note that most states have already implemented graduated licensing laws that include these types of restrictions, so the emphasis at this point should be on enforcement.

Other Studies Show Similar Results

This isn’t the first study to show that more restrictive policies can result in a higher level of safety on the road. In 2015, researchers from the Boston University Medical Center reported that states with more restrictive alcohol policies and regulations had lower rates of self-reported drunk driving.

Things like high alcohol taxes, safe serving laws, and retail sales restrictions were all protective against drunk driving, as were more specific enforcement actions like sobriety checkpoints.

“A 10 percent increase in strength among state alcohol policy environments in all states would result in about 404,903 fewer impaired drivers monthly,” the researchers wrote.

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