The rate of child passengers killed while riding with an impaired driver rose slightly during the first year of the pandemic, according to a new study in the March 2024 edition of Pediatrics.

Authors of the study “Child Passenger Deaths in Traffic Crashes Involving Alcohol-Impaired Drivers: 2011-2020” say most of these young passengers were unrestrained when they died. Of the nearly 8,000 child passengers who died in motor vehicle crashes from 2011 to 2020, one in five victims died in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver.

In most cases, the young person killed was in the same vehicle as an impaired driver. Researchers also noted the higher the blood alcohol concentration of the child’s driver, the less likely the child passenger who died was restrained in the crash – especially if the child was older. The data used in this study centered around children under the age of 15.

Many child deaths happened after a single-vehicle crash that occurred at night. Researchers contend child endangerment laws with enhanced DUI penalties while transporting a child have not been shown to be effective, partly because they are not consistently enforced. Possible interventions include a wider use of measures to address alcohol-impaired driving, such as an expanded use of alcohol ignition interlock devices for drivers convicted of DUI, lowering current blood alcohol concentration limits, and programs for repeat offenders.