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State Alcohol Policy and Motor Vehicle Fatalities Among Young Adults

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Project Summary:

The motor vehicle death rate for younger drivers continues to be a major public health concern. Although motor vehicle fatalities among 16 to 20 year olds have been declining over time, the fatality rate has stabilized at roughly 29 deaths per 100,000 individuals since 1992. The CDC estimates that one-quarter to one-third of young adult motor vehicle fatalities is associated with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of 0.10 or higher. As a result, there have been a number of state-level efforts aimed at reducing alcohol-related deaths within this population. These efforts include the adoption of more stringent driving under the influence (DUI) laws and the growth in graduated driver’s license (GDL) systems for new drivers. Additionally, alcohol taxes have received some attention as a potential means of lowering teenage traffic fatalities. This project offers the first comprehensive evaluation of the effects of these policies on younger driver fatalities using national data and state of the art econometric techniques. The specific aims of this project are threefold. First, the project will estimate the effect of illegal per se laws, administrative license revocations, dram shop statute or case laws, mandatory jail time for a first DUI offense, zero tolerance laws, and higher alcohol prices on vehicular fatalities among teens and younger adults over the 1985 to 2001 period. Many existing studies have failed to account for such a rich set of alcohol-related policies and this study offers the novel approach of examining both alcohol prices and alcohol taxes. Second, the project will examine the recent enactment of GDL systems for new drivers. In many respects, GDL systems are directly aimed at preventing alcohol-related fatalities. In addition to raising the minimum driving age, these policies limit high-risk driving situations that are likely to involve alcohol (e.g., night driving and transporting teenage passengers). Although current studies have found some decline in fatalities for novice drivers under GDL systems, this project will be the first to consider both younger and old teen fatality effects of GDL systems. These systems, which keep younger teenage drivers away from potentially risky situations, may simply shift the risks to the age at which they are exposed to those situations. Third, the project will employ full fixed-effects econometric techniques to account for other state-level and time trend factors that have compromised the generalizability of earlier studies. The fixed-effects estimation strategy purges unobserved and potentially confounded differences across states by relying on within-state variation in state motor vehicle laws over time and by using states that did not change their laws as a control for unrelated time-series variation. There is a great deal of uncertainty among researchers and policy makers regarding whether policy levers may be effective in addressing alcohol-related teenage driving fatalities. The findings from this study will measurably increase the understanding of state-level regulations and their influence on motor vehicle deaths involving younger drivers. This will allow state policy makers and public health officials to clearly evaluate our current regulatory environment, build upon its strengths, and ameliorate its problems.

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