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Keywords:

  • Alcohol-Impaired Driving;
  • College Students;
  • Epidemiology;
  • Longitudinal Study;
  • Young Adults

Background:  Alcohol-impaired driving is a major public health problem. National studies indicate that about 25% of college students have driven while intoxicated in the past month and an even greater percentage drive after drinking any alcohol and/or ride with an intoxicated driver. The purpose of this investigation was to examine the change in these various alcohol-related traffic risk behaviors as students progressed through their college experience.

Methods:  A cohort of 1,253 first-time first-year students attending a large, mid-Atlantic university were interviewed annually for 4 years. Repeated measures analyses were performed using generalized estimating equations to evaluate age-related changes in prevalence and frequency of each behavior (i.e., ages 19 to 22).

Results:  At age 19, 17%wt of students drove while intoxicated, 42%wt drove after drinking any alcohol, and 38%wt rode with an intoxicated driver. For all 3 driving behaviors, prevalence and frequency increased significantly at age 21. Males were more likely to engage in these behaviors than females. To understand the possible relationship of these behaviors to changes in drinking patterns, a post hoc analysis was conducted and revealed that while drinking frequency increased every year, frequency of drunkenness was stable for females, but increased for males.

Conclusions:  Alcohol-related traffic risk behaviors are quite common among college students and take a significant upturn when students reach the age of 21. Prevention strategies targeted to the college population are needed to prevent serious consequences of these alcohol-related traffic risk behaviors.