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Study: 1,755 children died in a crash involving a drunken driver from 2011-2020

February 6, 2024

About 1,755 children died in a crash involving a drunken driver over the last decade, and most of the time they were in the same vehicle, according to a new study. The fatality rate went up slightly in 2020.

“Previous progress on this problem has stalled, and the recent increasing trend in child passenger deaths, which was not deterred by the pandemic lockdown, is alarming,” authors wrote in “Child Passenger Deaths in Traffic Crashes Involving Alcohol-Impaired Drivers: 2011-2020” (Quinlan K, et al. Pediatrics. Feb. 6, 2024).

Researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, focusing on child passengers under 15 years who died in motor vehicle crashes from 2011-2020.

During that time, nearly 8,000 child passengers died in a crash, and 22% of those crashes involved an alcohol-impaired driver. The child was in the same vehicle as the impaired driver in about 64% of the crashes.

Most of the children killed were not restrained. The higher the blood alcohol content of the driver, the less likely children were to be restrained, according to the study.

In crashes in which a child died in a car with an impaired driver, about 54% of the impaired drivers were male, about 5% had been convicted of DUI and 35% did not have a valid driver’s license. About 69% of the drivers survived.

Authors said enhanced penalties for DUI with a child in the car are not effective or consistently enforced. They called for expanding use of alcohol ignition interlock devices for drivers convicted of DUI, lowering blood alcohol limits, implementing programs for repeat offenders and increasing research on drugged driving.

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