Buffalo State awarded $3 million to study drinking and driving behavior
The Center for Health and Social Research points out that 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 reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States from 26,173 in 1982 to 16,711 in 1997, the effectiveness of such programs has reached a plateau, according to the center. In 2004, the NIAAA reported 16,919 alcohol-related fatalities.
“Little is known about the factors that lead individuals to initiate and continue drinking and driving behavior,” Center for Health and Social Research Director William Wieczorek said. “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.”
Project will draw on data collected from previous study on drug use, drinking and criminal behavior
According to the center, the five-year project will draw on data collected from the Buffalo Longitudinal Study of Young Men, which was directed 12 years ago by Wieczorek and John Welte, principal investigator with the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions. 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, according to the center.
Wieczorek and his team also will 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 noted that his team 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.
Just as important to study people who choose not to drink and drive
Following a review of the existing statistics, the Center for Health and Social Research will call former participants, who now are in their late 20s and early 30s and living throughout the country.
Wieczorek noted 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 from the Center for Health and Social Research, the University at Buffalo and other institutions.