2021 Drunk driving statistics

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Alcohol has long been known as a roadway killer. It can start with a single drink, but then there’s the thought of just one more, and all too quickly, reason and responsibility are abandoned. All it takes is a split-second delay in reaction, and the consequences of driving drunk can be utterly life-changing — and life-ending.

A driver is considered legally impaired when the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) measures 0.08 or higher (lower thresholds apply to commercial or other special driver circumstances). The negative impacts of alcohol and driving cannot be overstated. Alcohol severely hampers a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, impairing judgment and slowing reaction time. The consequences can be deadly, which is why it is illegal to operate a vehicle while impaired in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and even Puerto Rico.

Important drunk driving statistics

  • An average of one alcohol-related death occurs every 48 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In 2018, the NHTSA reported more than 230 children aged 14 and under were killed in drunk-driving crashes.
  • Adults ages 25-34 are most likely to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or more.
  • Passenger cars make up 43% of all drunk-driving crashes, far more than pickup trucks, SUVs, vans and motorcycles.
  • The World Health Organization reports that drivers of some low- and middle-income countries are 69% more likely to be fatally injured with an excessive BAC.
  • In 2010, drinking and driving cost more than $44 billion in deaths and damages.

Drunk driving deaths per year

According to the NHTSA, one person dies in the U.S. every 50 minutes from drunk driving, and drunk-driving crashes are the reason for more than 10,000 deaths each year. Drinking and driving was to blame for nearly 30% of all traffic-related deaths.

Table of contents

Updated drunk driving statistics

In the latest drunk driving statistics from the NHTSA, age, gender and location are significant factors.

  1. Drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 have the most drunk driving fatalities.
  2. Adults 23-54 are the next highest group of at-risk drivers, followed by drivers 16-20.
  3. Drivers over the age of 75 are the least likely to be involved in a crash with a BAC of 0.08 or more.
  4. Male drunk driving fatalities are responsible for 80.4% of drunk driver fatalities.
  5. To reach a BAC of 0.08, it may only take a 180-pound man four drinks, while a 120-pound woman can reach that BAC after just two drinks.
  6. The parties most at risk for drunk driving are young people, motorcyclists and drivers with prior DWI convictions.
  7. California has by far the most driving fatalities each year, according to the NHTSA, with 1,120 total deaths in 2017 attributed to alcohol-impaired driving.
  8. Florida was close behind, while other states like Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Vermont are all considerably safer.


In addition to the distractions drivers already face on the road, compounded by the stress of COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic, other increasing driver trends are concerning — particularly in conjunction to drunk driving.

Drug use is also on the rise, with an increasing number of drivers climbing behind the wheel while impaired. Excluding alcohol, drug use is involved in about 16% of car crashes. The growing legalization of marijuana in many U.S. states has also led to a rise in marijuana-related crashes.

Effects of COVID

2019 showed a marked decrease in drunk driving stats from 2018, a positive step by all accounts.

Year Drunk Driving Deaths Total Fatality Rate
(per 100 million vehicle miles)
2019 36,096 1.10
2018 36,835 1.13

Source: Insurance Information Institute

However, COVID-19 also left its mark on these statistics, conversely affecting drunk driving trends.

By September 2020, drunk driving fatalities increased almost 5% from the same period in 2019, despite the fact that total miles traveled decreased about 14.5 percent. It means that the fatality rate also increased, from 1.10 to 1.35 in just a year. The influence of alcohol, drugs and medication was found to only be responsible for about 10 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes.

Drunk driving statistics through the years

Drunk driving numbers are down in the last 10 years overall, thanks to the tireless efforts of citizen activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), combined with the continued enforcement from public agencies like the NHTSA and CDC. As awareness continues to improve about the effects of alcohol, the trends in drunk driving have steadily decreased. The rise of technological advances, such as popular ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft, have made hitching a sober ride all the more accessible and often more affordable, too.

Historical data reflects the overall trend:

  • Drunk driving deaths have decreased by one-third in the last 30 years.
  • The number of alcohol-impaired fatalities has consistently decreased since 1985, with the exception of a slight blip from 2012-2013.
  • The most recent available data from NHTSA shows that drunk driving-related deaths and damages contributed to a cost of $44 billion that year in 2010.
  • In 2018, there were 10,511 total deaths from drunk-driving crashes.
  • In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all U.S traffic-related fatalities.
  • Also, in 2016, over one million drivers were placed under arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • 2018 marks a 65% decrease in alcohol-imapired driving fatalities since 1982, when record-keeping began.
  • It is a 49% decrease since 1991.
  • The rate of drunk driving fatalities per 100,000 population has decreased 71% for those under the age of 21 from 1991 to 2018.

In addition, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility says, “Since 1982, drunk driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways have decreased 50%, while total traffic fatalities have declined nearly 17 percent.”

“Despite this progress,” the organization notes, “we still have more work to do, and our commitment to eliminate drunk driving is stronger than ever.”

The consequences of drunk driving

There’s no denying that driving drunk can change your life for the worse. Even if you are able to avoid physical injury to your person or another, drunk driving can have negative impacts to your insurance. Even the best car insurance companies rates will be affected if your driver record shows driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).

The consequences can be very steep.

How drunk driving impacts car insurance rates

Drunk driving laws have altered significantly over the years, and states have taken the initiative to add their own specifications in addition to federal traffic laws. Penalties can include misdemeanors or even felony offenses, often resulting in fines, loss of your driver’s license and even jail time. While repeat offenders typically face jail time and permanent license revocation, first-time offenders can be ordered to pay more than $10,000 in fines and legal fees.

Legal repercussions aside, there’s still your car insurance company to contend with. When you have a DUI or DWI on your record, insurers generally assess you as a high-risk driver and will often increase your premiums to cover that increased risk. Our research shows that while the average auto policy with Travelers Group, for example, costs $1,428 annually, those rates skyrocket to $2,442 when you have a DUI conviction on your record. On average, post-DUI car insurance rates can increase anywhere from $800 to $3,000, depending on factors like your auto insurance provider, case details and driver history.

How to prevent drunk driving

Public attitude continues to shift as more and more families are touched by the negative consequences of drinking and driving. Today, there is a lot more education and many more laws, all designed to help new generations of drivers understand the rules and risks of the road. Driving is an enormous responsibility, and it’s imperative that new drivers understand the heavy responsibility they are being given.

As a parent or caregiver, there are some things you can do to help your household’s new drivers adjust to a safer life on the road and behind the wheel.

  • Talk to your kids.
    Education starts at home, and as a family member, you have the best access to the drivers in your home. Be sure that they understand the effects of alcohol and the life-shattering consequences it can have. The full impacts of a drunk driver are untold over the years, and it’s critical that teens and new drivers understand the very serious responsibility they are being given.
  • Use a rideshare.
    Grabbing a sober ride is easier than ever, thanks to the addition of ridesharing companies. Services like Uber and Lyft are largely available throughout the U.S. and often at a much more affordable price than traditional taxi fare.
  • Hop on a scooter.
    Today’s eco-friendly solution to transportation is the scooter. There are many services like Lime and Bird, which offer electric scooters on a pay-per-minute basis. There are also several standard and electric bicycle options if you prefer something a little more traditional.
  • Spend the night.
    Sometimes, the best thing to do if you’re drunk is nothing at all. If you are at a safe place where you can stay until morning, it’s better to just sleep it off at a trusted friend’s house or nearby hotel than to risk driving home.
  • Plan ahead.
    No matter what, make a plan (or a few) before you head out for your adventure. Try to find a place to stay in advance of your festivities, so you’re able to make decisions with a clear mind. Options for planning in advance also include asking a friend if you can crash, or scheduling a designated driver to provide a ride home.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
    Whatever it takes, make sure you do not drive drunk or even buzzed. Give your keys to a sober friend, and find a designated driver or call a safe ride.

Driving drunk is never the right choice.