By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - The U.S. economic slowdown could have an upside: a dramatic decline in the number of drinking and driving incidents, a new federal study suggests.
A 2010 national telephone survey of 451,000 people found the lowest level of alcohol-impaired driving since 1993 and a 30 percent plunge since the peak in 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday.
The CDC estimates there were approximately 112 million alcohol-impaired driving episodes last year.
Although the exact cause of the drop is uncertain, a slow economy could be a factor, the CDC said.
"One possibility is that people are drinking at home more and therefore driving less after drinking," the CDC's director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, told reporters during a media briefing.
The survey did not suggest a significant drop in overall drinking, said Gwen Bergen, a CDC behavioral scientist.
During the telephone survey, those who said they had consumed at least one alcoholic beverage in the prior 30 days were asked how many times they had driven after having too much to drink.
The results indicate that an estimated four million adults, 1.8 percent of the U.S. adult population, had driven at least once while intoxicated.
Men accounted for 81 percent of the drinking and driving incidents. Young men ages 21-34 were responsible for 32 percent of all drinking and driving episodes while making up only 11 percent of the U.S. population in 2010.
The study found binge drinkers were much more likely to get behind the wheel after imbibing.
The Midwest region had the highest rates of drinking and driving, the CDC said.
In 2009, 10,839 people died in crashes involving impaired driving, about a third of all U.S. traffic deaths, according to the CDC.
The agency recommended increasing sobriety checkpoints, raising taxes on alcohol and implementing stricter liability laws for establishments that serve alcohol, as measures to further reduce drunk driving.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)