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Drinking and driving among Mexican American and non-Hispanic white males in Long Beach, California

Ferguson, Susan A.; Burns, Marcelline M.; Fiorentino, Dary; Williams, Allan F.; Garcia, Juan
Accident Analysis and Prevention
July 2002

Although drinking and driving in the United States has declined substantially during the past two decades, this trend has not been seen among Hispanic drivers. Higher rates of driving while impaired (DWI) arrests and alcohol-related crashes, particularly among Mexican Americans, also have been noted. The extent to which this reflects a lack of understanding of DWI laws rather than a disregard for them is unknown. A survey was conducted among Mexican American and non-Hispanic white male DWI arrestees in Long Beach, California, to ascertain alcohol use, attitudes toward drinking and drinking and driving, and knowledge of DWI laws. The findings were compared with those of Mexican American and non-Hispanic white males recruited from the local community. Mexican American males, both DWIs and those from the community, reported heavier drinking than non-Hispanic white males. All four groups of respondents tended to underestimate the number of drinks needed to achieve the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold at or above which it is illegal to drive under California law. Estimations were around 2-3 drinks rather than a more realistic estimate of 4-5 drinks. However, Mexican American DWIs and their comparison group vastly overestimated the number of drinks to make them unsafe drivers (8- 10 drinks). Furthermore, fewer than half were aware of the BAC threshold in California (0.08%) compared with between 60 and 78% of non-Hispanic whites. This study is limited in scope and needs to be replicated in other communities and with other racial/ethnic groups. However, the clear lack of knowledge of the DWI law in California and a lack of understanding of the relationship between number of drinks and BAC point to the need for culturally sensitive programs that are developed and implemented within the Mexican American community.