ATLANTA, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Alcohol is still a factor in one in five traffic deaths of children under age 15, but the rate at which children are killed in traffic accidents involving drunk drivers has gradually declined in the past decade, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said there was a 26 percent decline in the death rate for children involved in alcohol-related traffic accidents between 1985 and 1996.
The decline parallels a drop in alcohol-related fatalities among all age groups, although motor-vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 25.
"Currently, one-fifth of all traffic deaths among children under 15 years of age involve alcohol," Dr. Kyran Quinlan of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control said.
Between 1985 and 1996, 8,482 children under age 15 died in accidents involving a drunk driver. More than two-thirds of the victims were riding in a car, 22 percent were pedestrians and 8 percent were on a bicycle.
"When you consider all children killed in car crashes involving a drunk driver, nearly two-thirds of the time it's the driver of the child's car that is drunk. The stereotype that drunk drivers kill people in other cars is a myth," Quinlan said.
Sixty percent of the children who died in alcohol-related motor-vehicle accidents were riding in the same vehicle as the drunken driver. Only 16 percent of children who were killed were wearing proper restraints such as safety belts or were in a child safety seat. "The more a driver has been drinking, the less likely the kids in the car are in car seats or seat belts," Quinlan said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said overall 35,547 children under 15 died in motor vehicle accidents between 1985 and 1996. The percentage of deaths that involved alcohol fell from 25 percent in 1985 to 21 percent in 1996.
Among all age groups, there were 41,907 traffic deaths last year, of which more than 40 percent were alcohol-related.
A driver with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 or higher is seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a driver who has not been drinking, the CDC said. Researchers said drunken drivers are also less likely to wear seat belts.
The deaths of children in drunk-driving accidents have led 21 states to adopt child endangerment laws that make it an offense to drive while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle.
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