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Drunk driving rates slide in the U.S.: An upside to the recession?

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Could lean times inspire healthy behaviour? Researchers think it may be the reason behind a significant drop in drunk driving in the United States.

The Associated Press reports that drunk driving incidents in the United States "have fallen 30 per cent in the last five years, and last year were at their lowest mark in nearly two decades, according to a new federal report."

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the report, suggested the decline is linked to the country's battered economy.

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There is other research that indicates people are not drinking less - they may just be turning away from bars, nightclubs and restaurants as the place they do their drinking.

"One possibility is that people are drinking at home more and driving less after drinking," Dr. Frieden told the AP.

The CDC statistics, drawn from a 2010 national telephone survey of about 210,000 people, don't paint an entirely rosy picture, though.

Nearly 1 in 50 respondents said they'd driven drunk at least once in the previous month, which the CDC figures adds up to more than 112 million episodes of drunk driving in 2010.

Still, it is "the lowest estimate since the survey question was first asked in 1993, and down significantly from the 161 million incidents in the peak year of 2006," reports AP.

On the Canadian side of the border, Statistics Canada has measured a similar decline in its annual look at crime statistics. After three consecutive annual increases in drunk driving offenses, the rate dropped 6 per cent in 2010. That rate has, in general, been declining since a peak in 1981.

A decline is a decline, but if having less money to spend in bars and restaurants is behind this drop in drunk driving, then is it only a temporary change? Or could it stick?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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