When the entire driving population was considered, the researchers found that laws setting the legal drinking limit at .08 percent, mandating seat belt use and authorizing license revocation were the most effective at reducing alcohol-related fatal crashes.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young people have a greater risk than older people of being involved in a crash under any circumstance but especially when alcohol is involved. Of those 16 to 20 years old who died in motor vehicle crashes in 2006, for example, 19 percent had consumed an alcoholic beverage, the CDC says.
The culture and drinking habits in which a young person was reared also affected the incidence of drinking and driving fatalities, the researchers said.
"We found a direct relationship between beer consumption per capita between drinking and driving accidents," Fell said. "We'd like to have underage beer drinking per capita, but that information isn't available."
Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the "the effectiveness of laws on underage drinking found by Dr. Fell are consistent with research we've done in the past."
"This is an issue that has had lots of different solutions thrown at it -- some of them effective and some of them not," he added. "There are some laws that may not be effective and may not be worth the time."
But, he said, "when public service campaigns are backed up by some sort of enforcement campaign, then they're quite effective."
The results of Fell's study appear online April 7 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more on under
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