Mexicans and Drunk Driving

Dave Gibson, American Renaissance, June 24, 2017

How bad is the problem?

It is common to read news accounts of Hispanics involved in drunk-driving accidents. Most Hispanics in the United States are mestizos, which means they have some level of Amerindian ancestry. Does this make them more susceptible to drunkenness and alcoholism, and does this contribute to higher rates of traffic fatalities? Not as much as one might expect.

Credit Image: © Image Source/ZUMAPRESS.com

A 2015 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study reports that Hispanics are less likely than whites to say that they drink: 54.5 percent of Hispanics and 70.3 percent of whites say they have had at least one drink in the past year. However, the same report finds that:

Hispanics who do drink are likely to drink more than whites. Forty-two point four percent of Hispanics who drink regularly consume three or more drinks “per drinking day.” The figure for whites is 31.6 percent. They are also more likely to “binge drink,” defined as five or more drinks at a time.

One third of Hispanics who become alcohol dependent have recurrent or persistent problems, compared to 22.8 percent of whites.

Hispanics with severe alcohol problems are less likely than whites to seek treatment. Hispanics also are less likely to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), even though Spanish-language AA groups are available for no charge.

Hispanic men have a higher rate of alcohol-related cirrhosis of liver than any other demographic group.

The average Mexican-American man has 15.9 alcoholic drinks per week, put Puerto Ricans are the heaviest Hispanic drinkers at an average of 16.9 drinks a week. Curiously, Puerto Rican women are much heavier drinkers than other Hispanics. At 9.5 drinks a week, they consume more than three times as much alcohol as Mexican-American women.

Among Hispanics who drink, Mexican-American men and women and South/Central American men are most likely to receive a DUI citation—Puerto Ricans and Cubans are less likely.

Are American Indians and Hispanics more susceptible than other groups to alcohol? The NIH reports on genetic predisposition to alcoholism and the genetics of alcohol metabolism:

Alcohol is metabolized by several pathways, the most common of which involves two key enzymes—alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). Genetic differences in these enzymes may help to explain why some groups of people have higher or lower rates of alcohol-related problems. For example, certain variations in the genes that produce ADH and ALDH have been shown to have a protective effect in that they lead to an increased production of acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism that can cause adverse physical reactions, such as facial flushing, nausea, and rapid heart beat. . . .

Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are five times more likely than other ethnicities in the United States to die of alcohol-related causes. Native Americans are predisposed to alcoholism because of differences in the way they metabolize alcohol.

Because we live in a time of “cultural sensitivity,” one must sometimes seek out decades-old research to find scientific data on group differences. The Harvard Gazette of June 27, 1980, reported that Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Inc. donated $5.8 million to Harvard Medical School to conduct research into the “biological, chemical, and genetic aspects of alcohol metabolism and alcoholism.”

A team of researchers under Dr. Bert Vallee found 15 distinct forms of the alcohol dehyrogenase (ADH) liver enzyme, and that different races had a “typical variation and type of these isoenzymes.” The study presented abundant evidence of widely different physiological reactions to alcohol among people of different races.

Under the Influence, written by Dr. James R. Milam and Katharine Ketcham in 1981, notes the following:

Another interesting finding of recent research is the discovery that a direct relationship exists between the length of time an ethnic group has been exposed to alcohol and the rate of alcoholism within that group. Jews and Italians, for example, have had access to large amounts of alcohol for more than 7,000 years and their alcoholism rate is very low. Alcohol was first introduced in quantity to the Northern European countries, including France, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries, some 1,500 years ago, and the rates of alcoholism are relatively higher there. Native Americans, who suffer from extremely high alcoholism rates, did not have large supplies of alcohol until approximately 300 years ago.

These differences in susceptibility are exactly what we should expect given the fact that alcoholism is a hereditary disease. The implication is that the longer an ethnic group is exposed to alcohol, the lower its members’ susceptibility to alcoholism. This relationship is consistent with the principle of natural selection whereby those people with a high genetic susceptibility are eliminated over many generations, resulting in a lower susceptibility rate for the entire group. (pp. 43-44)

Do these differences result in different rates of DUI arrest? Data are not available at the national level because Hispanic criminals are almost always classed as “white.” California, however, treats Hispanics as a separate category, and state records show that Hispanics are 24.4 percent more likely than whites to be arrested for drunk driving. Blacks are 66 percent more likely.

Hispanics are not, however, markedly more likely than whites to die in traffic accidents. A 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report found that blacks, whites, and Hispanics all died in accidents at about the same rate: 12.27 to 12.50 per 100,000 population. The outliers were American Indians, who died at 31.17 per 100,000, and Asians at 4.00 per 100,000.

The same report found race differences in the percentages of drivers who were drunk when they died in car crashes. Indians lead with 53 percent, with other races as follows: Hispanics: 40 percent, blacks: 31 percent, whites: 30 percent, Asians: 17 percent. Likewise, when pedestrians were killed in auto accidents, American Indians were most likely to be drunk, followed by Hispanics, blacks, whites, and finally Asians.

There are race differences in the percentage of automobile occupants who were not wearing seat belts when they died in a crash: Indians: 73 percent, blacks: 59 percent, whites and Hispanics: 47 percent, Asians 22 percent. Alcohol is not the only contributors to race differences in traffic fatalities.

Despite genetic predisposition for Amerindians and mestizos, rates for alcohol-related road accidents for Hispanics are not markedly higher from those for whites. However, Hispanics probably do not drive as many miles per year as whites, and their accident rates would be higher if they did.

Many Hispanics come from countries with driving cultures different from ours. For example, in six Mexican states and in Mexico City, agencies that issue drivers licenses do not require a test of any kind. You need only pay a fee. In Mexico City, the fee is about $60, and you sign a document saying you know how to drive. Three other states require the applicant to take a class, after which everyone gets a license, while many other states give tests consisting of easy multiple choice questions. At one time, driver testing was universal, but it is being phased out.

Only 17 of Mexico’s 32 states have legal driving limits for a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Those states are: Aguascalientes, Chiapas, Distrito Federal, Estado de Mexico, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Vera Cruz:  .04; Chihuahua:  .05; Guanajato, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oazaca, Quintana Roo, and Sonora:  .08; and Colima:  .08—10. (Source)

Interestingly, many of the states that do have a BAC limit set it lower than the .08, which is common in the United States.

According to a 2008 estimate by the United Nations’ Pan American Health Organization, 200,000 people drive under the influence of alcohol on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in Mexico City alone.

And what happens when a driver is pulled over in Mexico for speeding, for example?

The Mexican travel website travelyucatan.com gives the following advice:

Speeding is, as a rule, easily taken care of by offering to pay the fine on the spot. If you cannot pay on the spot, one of three things will occur:

-The officer will accept less money. The officer will accompany you to an ATM while waiting around the corner.

-The officer will take your driver’s license and you’ll receive a ticket. You will need to pay the fine to retrieve your driver’s license.

-Sometimes the officer will simply let you off with a warning if you have a good attitude.

You will NOT be arrested.

In October 2011, The Economist reported that 24,000 fatalities occur on Mexico’s roads annually. This is well over the death rate from car accidents in the United States, even though Americans drive many more miles every year than Mexicans. Differences in the quality of highways, signage, illumination, etc., probably contribute to national differences in fatality rates.

The data are therefore mixed. American Indians are particularly susceptible to alcohol problems, but Hispanics living in the United States do not show the same extreme levels of susceptibility.

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Dave Gibson
Mr. Gibson is a syndicated columnist.
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