Although young men have tended to be associated with alcohol-related crashes, young women are beginning to show an alarming increase in fatal automobile crashes related to alcohol use and a failure to use seatbelts, University of California, Irvine researchers have found.

The study, led by emergency medicine physicians with the Center for Trauma & Injury Prevention Research at the UC Irvine Medical Center, showed that over a 10-year period (1995-2004) women began to “catch up” to men in risky behaviors. In addition, while seatbelt use increased for both young men and women, the increase for women was smaller. When combined with other factors, such as cell phone use while driving and distractions from other teenagers in the car, the trends for young women are not positive.

Automobile crashes remain the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults, compounded by the effects of alcohol and failure to use seatbelts. Study results are being presented at the 2007 Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Annual Meeting today in Chicago.

“Young women should not be overlooked or underestimated in risky driving habits and involvement in alcohol-related crashes,” said Dr. Virginia Tsai, the study leader.

For the study, Tsai and her colleagues reviewed accident data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1995-2004. Some 139,000 fatal crashes in the age groups 16 to 24 occurred over the study period. Overall, young women had a 13 percent overall lower proportion of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes than men. However, when accounting for change over the 10-year period, young women drivers showed similar increases (1.3 percent) in alcohol-related fatal crashes as did young men (1.4 percent). This increase was especially apparent in the older, legal drinking age group of 21 to 24 years.

In restraint use data, men showed overall less seatbelt use (by 17.9 percent), but a greater increase in use over the study period (9.2 percent) than with women (7.5 percent).

“The significance of this 1.3 percent increase for young women drivers is that it was unexpected to be similar to the increase found with young men drivers,” Tsai said. “In general, female drivers are expected to be less risky drivers, and past studies have proven this.”

Craig Anderson and Dr. Federico Vaca, director of the Center for Trauma & Injury Prevention Research, are co-investigators in the study.

About the Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research: The Center for Trauma and Injury Prevention Research is committed to the reduction of associated personal and societal burden of traumatic injury through conducting multidisciplinary research, translating research into policy and practice, serving as a regional and national resource and working in close partnership with communities.

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