Despite decades of deterrence efforts, drinking and driving continues to be a major public health and traffic-safety epidemic. While awareness initiatives such as the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign helped to curb alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States from 26,173 in 1982 to 16,711 in 1997, the effectiveness of such programs has since reached a plateau. In 2004, the NIAAA reported 16,919 fatalities.
“Little is known about the factors that lead individuals to initiate and continue drinking and driving behavior,” said William Wieczorek, CHSR director. “By establishing a theoretical model, it will allow for the creation of specific intervention techniques that will be able to stem this behavior at its origins.”
The five-year project will draw on data collected from the Buffalo Longitudinal Study of Young Men, which was directed by Wieczorek and John Welte, principal investigator with the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions, 12 years ago. Although participants from the original study were recruited for a broader investigation of drug use, drinking, and criminal behavior, the data collected from the 625 participants, along with numerous in-depth interviews, will provide the framework for the current grant.
In addition, Wieczorek and his team will take an innovative look at geographic and neighborhood impacts on behavior during the first phase of the study. Rather than relying on strict census-tract data that can be confined by borders and boundaries, Wieczorek will incorporate geospatial measures, such as neighborhood characteristics and proximity to bars, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery stores.
“We want to capture the essence of what neighborhoods are like,” Wieczorek said.
Following a review of the existing statistics, CHSR will telephone former participants, who are now in their late 20s and early 30s and living throughout the country.
Wieczorek notes that while it will be necessary to reconnect with participants who display drinking and driving tendencies, it will be equally important to follow up with people who choose not to drink and drive.
“Even though this study will be looking at what causes individuals to initiate or continue drinking and driving behavior, deciphering what variables affect a decision not to drink and drive will be just as valuable,” Wieczorek said. “To have an accurate and representative sample, we need to gather data from both ends of the spectrum.”
To complete this complex study, Wieczorek has assembled a team of accomplished scientists that consists of Welte; Craig Colder, associate professor of psychology at UB; Kelly Marczynski, assistant director and senior research scientist with CHSR; Thomas Nochajski, associate professor of social work at UB; David Wong, professor and chair of the Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences Department at George Mason University; and Lening Zhang, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa.
CHSR will receive $3,058,757 in funding over five years for the project, including $585,258 in the first year.