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Press Briefing Transcript

Vital Signs: Alcohol–Impaired Driving Among Adults — United States, 2010

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 – 12:00pm ET

Operator: Welcome and thank you for standing by.  At this time all participants are in a listen only mode.  During the question and answer session today, you may press star 1 to ask a question.  Today's conference is being recorded and at this time I′ll turn the call over to Mr. Tom skinner.  You may begin.

Tom Skinner: Thank you, Shirley. Thank you all for joining us today for another release of a Vital Signs from the CDC, this one on alcohol–impaired driving among adults, United States, 2010. Joining us today is director of the CDC Dr. Thomas Frieden who will provide some opening remarks and then we'll get to your question and answers and we'll be joined during Q&A by Dr. Gwen Bergen, a behavioral scientist here at CDC.  So I′ll turn it over to Dr. Frieden to provide some opening remarks and then we'll get to your questions and answers. 

Tom Frieden: Good afternoon and thank you very much for joining us.  The bottom line here is that by self–report, which is undoubtedly an underestimate, Americans got behind the wheel 112 million times last year and endangered themselves and others. Individuals need to be more responsible and there are things that communities and government can say do to protect the public from threats to their safety through drunk driving.  Drinking and driving puts everyone on the road in danger. 

In 2010, U.S. adults drank too much and got behind the wheel about 112 million times.  That's almost 300,000 incidents of drinking and driving every day.  That's to a large extent because of that, that there were many alcohol–related fatalities last year and there have been each year.  About a third of all fatal motor vehicle crashes are alcohol–associated and that proportion has not decreased over the years.  The CDC Vital Signs report has several other notable findings that I would like to mention. Certain groups are much more likely to drink and drive than others.  Men accounted for 81% of all episodes of impaired driving and young men age 21 to 34, although they make up only 11% of the population accounted for nearly a third, 32% of all episodes .  Also 85% of all alcohol–impaired driving episodes were reported by people who binge drink.  Binge drinking means five or more drinks per men or four or more drinks for women during a short period of time.

More widespread use of sobriety checkpoints where police stop drivers to judge if they're driving under the incidence of alcohol could save it's estimated between 1,500 and 3,000 lives on the road every year.  Enforcing the .08 blood alcohol concentration and minimum legal age drinking laws, requiring ignition interlocks for everyone convicted of drinking and driving starting with their first offense are all proven ways of further reducing the toll of drunk driving on our highways.  Sobriety checkpoints reduce alcohol–impaired driving, but despite their effectiveness they haven't been fully implemented in the U.S. and 12 states don't allow them at all.  Other states don't use them frequently.  There is very strong public support for checkpoints with 75% respondents in a recent survey by the Department of Transportation endorsing weekly or monthly sobriety checkpoints.  Minimum legal drinking age laws prohibit selling alcohol to people under 21 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia have such laws.  Enforcing these laws helps keep young inexperienced drivers from drinking and driving.  Ignition interlocks are effective in reducing
re–arrest rates from drinking and driving for nearly two–thirds while the device is on the vehicle.  Public support for ignition interlock programs is strong.  In another survey by Triple A, 90% of respondents reported –– supported requiring ignition interlocks for drivers with multiple alcohol impaired driving convictions and more than two–thirds, 69%, supported this requirement for drivers on their first conviction.  However, interlocks are only used in about 20% of the cases.  We recommend CDC making interlocks mandatory for all offenders. 

So while we're pleased that fewer people report drinking and driving than in past years and there has been real progress in reducing the number of drinking and driving episodes over the past five years, it's still far too common.  Drunk driving is a public health problem with far–reaching effects.  It puts everyone in danger, even the most Drivers and pedestrians.  There are proven ways to reduce and prevent drunk driving and protect everyone on the road as today's Vital Signs release highlights some of those evidence–based ways of keeping all of us safe on the road.  With that, I would like to stop and welcome questions, which either I or Dr. Bergen will answer.  Thank you very much for your interest. 

Operator: Thank you.  At this time we're ready to begin the question and answer session.  If you would like to ask a question, please press star 1 and record your name clearly.  Again, if you have a question, press star 1, and one moment for our first question.  Our first question comes from David Beasley with Reuters News Service.  You may ask your question. 

David Beasley: Yes, Dr. Frieden, I had two quick questions.  Do you know how many people were actually surveyed?  I know there was a four million figure for drinking while impaired, but I got the impression that was extrapolated from survey results.  I was wondering how many actual people answered the phone survey? 

Tom Frieden: Sure.  Dr. Bergen may want to say more, but basically this is the BRFSS survey which is done in every state.  Dr. Bergen, do you want to give the actual numbers? 

Gwen Bergen: 451,000 people responded to the BRFSS.  These data were then weighted according to age, race, ethnicity and sex, specific state population counts and also to the respondent's probability of selection to get population–based estimates.

Tom Frieden: I think that's the important point.  The issue is not so much how many people are surveyed but that this is a representative sample.  I think you had a second brief question? 

David Beasley: Yes.  Could you talk about the slowing economy as a possible reason for the 30% decline since 2006?  I notice the report actually mentioned that.  That people were staying at home and not going out as much? 

Tom Frieden: Yeah, we can't say with certainty what is accounting for the significant decline in episodes that people report of driving while impaired.  One possibility is people are drinking at home more and, therefore, driving less after drinking.  I don't know, Dr. Bergen, if you want to say more.

Gwen Bergen: We know that there were not significant decreases in self–reported drinking or self–reported binge drinking during this period so that is not an explanation.  But as Dr. Frieden says, there is other research that suggests that the economy may be contributing to this decline. 

Tom Skinner: The next question.

Operator: The next is from Mike Stobbe with Associated Press.  You may ask your question.

Mike Stobbe: Thank you for taking the question.  I was just curious, maybe not in this data set, but do you know what the trend is with younger drivers, I guess those 16 to 18, and drunk driving?  Is that –– has there also been a recent decrease or do you know? 

Tom Frieden: I′ll make one comment and then ask Dr. Bergen to continue.  Over the past few years we've seen a real increase in the number of states that have implemented graduated driver's licenses, which limit –– which restrict driving of particularly 15 to 18–year–olds.  No state has an optimal graduated driver's license law, but many –– virtually all states have begun to implement some parts of it and we think largely as a result of those policies, we're seeing substantial reductions in fatalities among 16 to 18–year–old drivers.  Dr. Bergen? 

Gwen Bergen: I cannot comment on the recent trends with underage drivers.  We do know that previous to this that there is evidence that the minimum legal drinking age laws and also the zero tolerance laws for young drivers were significantly related to decreases in underage drinking and driving. 

Tom Skinner: Mike, did you have a follow–up? 

Mike Stobbe: No, that's okay.  Thank you.

Tom Skinner:  The next question, Shirley.

Operator: Thank you.  The next question is from Daniel DeNoon with WebMD.

Daniel DeNoon: Thank you.  Dr. Frieden, I see some estimates of costs here.  Can you talk about the calculation where you're showing that checkpoints produce an actual total benefit in the costs of setting them up, and can you talk to me about how that's calculated and where those benefits come from?  Also on the topic of costs, I′d like to be what the ignition interlock systems cost and how that kind of a program works in real life.

Tom Frieden: I′ll start and then ask Dr. Bergen to continue.  The cost savings are in two broad categories.  One is medical costs and the second is broader societal costs.  The medical costs are trauma care and the care of someone who may be disabled and require long–term medical care and rehabilitation.  The societal costs have to do with lost earnings, damage to property and other broader societal costs.  Dr. Bergen? 

Gwen Bergen: As Dr. Frieden said, the benefits and these calculations come from the medical costs saved and the productivity losses that are saved when you prevent these deaths.  The costs for sobriety checkpoints come from the costs of operating the checkpoint.  The cost for ignition interlock come from the cost to the offender of installing the interlock on their car, and there are some costs that come from the state having to administer the program. 

Daniel DeNoon: Any sense of what that cost to the offender would be? 

Gwen Bergen: The latest figure I′ve seen, it ranges from –– I′m sorry, I would actually have to check that figure because it has changed recently.

Tom Skinner: Dan, we can get back to you on that.

Daniel DeNoon: Thank you, Tom.  That's all the questions I have. 

Tom Skinner: Okay. 

Operator: Again, if you have a question, press star 1.  Our next question comes from Damien McNamara with Internal Medical News.  You may ask your question.

Damien McNamara: Yeah, I write for a primary care physicians such as family doctors and internists.  Can you tell me what your message is for these doctors based on this report?

Tom Frieden: Absolutely.  Every primary care practitioner can help patients realize that car crashes are the leading cause of death for everyone age 5 to 34, and that one in three car crash deaths involves someone who's an alcohol–impaired driver.  Can routinely screen patients for risky drinking patterns and provide brief intervention.  A 10 to 15– minute motivational counseling session which can substantially reduce the long–term risk of problem drinking and, therefore, of course, of drinking and driving as well. 

Tom Skinner: Did you have a follow–up? 

Damien McNamara: No, that's it.  Thank you. 

Operator: Thank you.  And again press star 1 to ask a question.  Our next question comes from Timothy Martin with the Wall Street Journal, you may ask your question.

Timothy Martin: Hi, guys.  Thanks for taking my call.  I′m wondering if there's any change in the demographics of the drinkers?  One of the key points from the survey, 81% of men, they reported 81% of the episodes of alcohol–impaired driving.  I′m wondering if that percentage has changed or if there's anything you guys can say about demographics if there was an increase or decrease of certain age groups or gender or ethnicity that have changed from this study versus previous ones.  Thank you. 

Tom Frieden: As a general rule we have not seen significant decreases in binge drinking.  Dr. Bergen? 

Gwen Bergen: There's an outstanding question in the field as to whether or not the percentage –– more women are drinking and driving but that question is still being researched and there is not a clear answer. 

Timothy Martin: All right, thank you. 

Operator:  Thank you.  At this time I′m showing no further questions.

Tom Skinner: Okay.  Shirley, if you'll remind people one more time how to go about queuing up for a question, we'll give everyone one more opportunity.  If there are no further questions, I′ll conclude the call.

Tom Frieden:  While we're waiting for that, I′ll make a concluding comment just to reiterate that there were more than 100 million episodes of alcohol–impaired driving by self–report last year.  Each of those episodes could have resulted in severe injury or death of a pedestrian, of a fellow driver, of a kid biking to school.  This is something that is unacceptable.  We have seen some progress in recent years, but still, one out of three motor vehicle crashes, one out of three fatal motor vehicle crashes is related to alcohol–impaired driving.  It's more than 10,000 deaths per year in the U.S. and we have proven ways to further reduce the number, so there are things that individuals can do, families can do, communities can do, state and local governments can do to further reduce the risk of alcohol–impaired driving.  I think because this is self–report, it is a significant underestimate of how serious this problem is and how widespread it is and we really do need to make further progress in reducing drunk driving in this country.  There are other countries around the world that have taken drunk driving more seriously and their rates of motor vehicle crashes are half or two–thirds lower than the U.S. rate.  And they drink just as much and they drive just as fast.  So while we've made progress, this is still a huge problem that's a threat to everyone who uses the road with often tragic consequences, particularly because there's so much more we can do. 

Tom Skinner: Shirley, any more questions? 

Operator:  We do have a question.  Again, if you have a question, just press star 1.  We do have a question from Mike Stobbe with Associated Press.  You may ask your question.

Mike Stobbe: Thanks.  Something Dr. Frieden said just made me think of this.  I don't know if there's a good answer.  But when you survey people about their weight, for example, they low ball their weight on a consistent basis.  When you talk about this is likely an underestimate, has there been any research that talks about how likely –– to what extent people exaggerate or undercount the amount of times they do drunk driving? 

Tom Frieden:  I′ll ask Dr. Bergen to comment further.  But we know that people underreport the amount they drink, so if you compare the amount that people say they drink with the consumption of alcohol in the U.S., there's a fairly large discrepancy.  And, therefore, it's undoubtedly the case that they also underestimate the amount that they drink and drive. 

Gwen Bergen: We know that there is a social desirability aspect to the way in which this question is answered.  We have compared the results to the results for the national roadside survey which actually surveys people on Friday and Saturday evenings and tests their blood alcohol.  And the most recent survey, which was conducted in 2007, found that 2.2% of the drivers on Friday and Saturday evenings had a blood alcohol content of .08 or over, so we think we're in the ballpark, but for many reasons we do know that this is probably an underestimate.

Mike Stobbe: Oh, interesting.  Thank you. 

Operator: Thank you.  At this time I′m showing no further questions. 

Tom Skinner: Okay. Thank you all very much.

Tom Frieden: Thank you all for joining us today. 

Operator: Thank you.  And that does conclude today's conference.  We thank you for your participation.  At this time you may disconnect your lines. 

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