The Impact of Rurality on Likelihood of Drunk Driving and Riding With a Driver Under the Influence Among High School Students

K. Bryant Smalley, Mercer University School of Medicine,
Jacob Warren, Mercer University School of Medicine
Yelena Tarasenko, Georgia Southern University
K. Nikki Barefoot, Statesboro Psychiatric Associates

This is a post-peer-review version of an article published in The Journal of Rural Health. The final authenticated version is available online at:




The purpose of this study was to examine the importance of rural location in the likelihood of adolescent drunk driving and riding in a vehicle with a driver under the influence while controlling for a variety of student‐, school‐, and county‐level factors.


Data from the 2013 Georgia Student Health Survey (GSHS) II (a statewide assessment of student health in public school students in Georgia) were analyzed using multilevel binary regressions to examine rural‐urban differences in prevalence of driving under the influence (11th and 12th graders only; n = 114,907) and riding with a driver under the influence (9th‐12th graders; n = 258,610), controlling for school‐level race, gender, and income, in addition to county‐level education level, unemployment, alcohol use, and smoking.


Across geographies, students were twice as likely to report riding with a driver under the influence (10.32%) as driving under the influence (4.16%). While both outcomes were more likely among rural adolescents in unadjusted analyses, in adjusted analyses, rural adolescents were not significantly more likely to drive under the influence (ORadj = 1.19; P = .055), but they were significantly more likely to ride with a driver under the influence (ORadj = 1.18; P = .002).


Our findings suggest that riding with a driver under the influence rather than driving under the influence may be a more pressing public health issue for adolescents in rural areas. Future research focused on the formative work necessary to build novel, culturally tailored interventions should be conducted to minimize the associated substantial burden of motor vehicle deaths within rural adolescents.