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Deaths from drunken driving accidents have dropped by nearly one-third over the past 12 years as states raised their drinking ages and grass-roots campaigns raised awareness of the problem, the government says.

Last year, 17,461 people were killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents, down 31 percent from 25,165 in 1982, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.In 1982, alcohol accounted for 57.3 percent of traffic deaths; that had declined to 43.5 percent by 1993, said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which collected the data.

The number of intoxicated drivers involved in fatal accidents dropped 33 percent, from 21,780 in 1982 to 14,589 in 1993.

Utah traffic deaths related to alcohol declined 6.1 percent from 1982 to 1993.

"Substantial progress has been made nationwide in reducing alcohol-related traffic fatal crashes," said CDC epidemiologist Julie Russell. "However, there is still a tremendous loss of life and enormous costs associated with this problem."

The CDC estimated that in 1990 alone, drunken driving accidents cost $46.1 billion, including $5.1 billion in medical expenses.

The agency attributed the drop in deaths to improved law enforcement, states' raising their drinking ages to 21 and lowering their legal limits for intoxication, fewer people drinking, social pressure against driving drunk and heightened public awareness because of groups that include Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

All states now have a drinking age of 21.

"We feel very encouraged that we are being effective," said Beckie Brown, national president of MADD. "MADD proved that one can change the direction that a whole country is headed."

Terry Schiavone, president of the National Commission Against Drunk Driving, welcomed the declines but said he is concerned that young adults are not getting the anti-drunken driving message.

Adults ages 21-34 in 1982 represented 54 percent of drunken drivers involved in fatal crashes. By 1993, the number was 52 percent, he said.