Drunken driving among U.S. teens fell 54 percent in the past two decades, a trend helped by laws to curb underage alcohol consumption and higher gas prices keeping high school students off the road, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2011, 10 percent of high school students reported drinking and driving, compared with 22 percent in 1991, according to the report. People ages 16 to 20 are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when their blood alcohol is .08 percent, the legal limit in many states, the report in the Atlanta-based CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.
The minimum drinking age of 21, compliance checks of retailers and teens spending less behind the wheel contributed to the decline, the report said. Driving among teens dropped substantially from 2000-2010, as the proportion of high school seniors who didn't get behind the wheel during an average week increased to 22 percent from 15 percent, according to the CDC.
"I chalk it up to serious concerted efforts to save these lives," said Jan Withers, the national president of Irving, Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Parental involvement is also very important for preventing drunk driving, she said.
Teen alcohol consumption has also dropped, following the trend in the general population, which has declined the 1990s, according to the report.
The data came from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, which monitors behaviors that contribute to injuries and violence, sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug use, tobacco use, unhealthy diets, and physical activity. The samples varied from about 10,900 to 16,400 each year.
"Teens are especially sensitive to increases in gasoline prices and declines in economic conditions, which might have decreased their miles driven since 2007," the report said.
Male students were more likely to drink and drive than females. High school boys ages 18 and older were the most likely to drive after consuming alcohol, and 16-year-old high school girls were least likely. About 11 percent of white students and 12 percent of Hispanic students reported driving after drinking, compared with 7 percent of black students.
The prevalence of drinking and driving was 3 times higher in those students who reported drinking five or more drinks in one sitting than in those who reported alcohol use without binging.
"As a parent of a teen I know that there's nothing worse than having your child die tragically and preventably," said Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, in a conference call. "Reducing drinking and driving is something we can do" to reduce unnecessary deaths, he said.
Parents and legislators who want to reduce the amount of drinking and driving should use community-based programs that address local issues, the report said.