CDC: Teen drinking and driving rates cut in half

(CNN) -- The number of teenagers who are drinking and driving has dropped by 54% in the past two decades, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, when asked if they drink and drive, 90% of the high school students 16 and older surveyed by the CDC said they did not.

However, "motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens in this country. There are more than 2,000 teens aged 16-19 killed each year and many of those deaths are alcohol-related," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden. "Almost a million high school teens aged 16 and over drove after drinking alcohol in 2011 and we calculate that high school teens were responsible for about 2.4 million episodes of drinking and driving a month."

The report also tells us that 85% of students who admitted to driving after drinking also participated in binge drinking in the past 30 days.

Frieden explained that drinking and driving is especially risky for younger drivers, who are 17 times more likely to die in an accident when alcohol is involved.

The study examined data from CDC's 1991-2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, which monitors six types of behaviors that raise the risk of death and disability among youth and young adults.

The surveillance system includes national surveys given to public and private students in grades nine through 12. Teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia completed voluntary and anonymous questionnaires that asked questions about current drinking and driving habits, alcohol use and binge drinking.

Teens were asked whether they had operated a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol one or more times during the 30 days before answering the survey.

Significant findings in the study include:

-- 10.3% of teens reported drinking and driving in 2011, compared to 22.3% in 1991.

-- 11.7% of male students were more likely to be drinking and driving, compared to 8.8% of female students.

-- Hispanic (11.5%) and White students (10.6%) were more likely to drink and drive than African-American students (6.6%)

-- 7.2% of 16-year-olds reported drinking and driving, which increased to 11.5% among 17-year-olds. Among students who reported drinking and driving, 84.6% reported binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row.

While the report shows progress has been made during the last 20 years in reducing teen drinking and driving, driving among teens also declined during the past decade.

Some of the factors that have contributed to the reduction in drunk driving include raising the minimum drinking age to 21 in all U.S. states, zero tolerance laws making it illegal for teens to have any alcohol in their system while driving, and the increase in graduated driver's licensing programs, which ease new drivers into having full driving privileges.

"We've seen teen driving fatalities fall by nearly 40% in nearly five years because of graduated drivers' license laws as well as other interventions," Frieden said.

He stressed the importance of states, pediatricians, and parents playing a role in educating teens about the dangers of drinking and driving. And he urged parents to set an example by not drinking and driving, and signing agreements with their teens to not drink and drive, as well as teaching teens to never get into a vehicle with anybody who has been drinking.