2021 Drunk driving statistics

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Alcohol has long been known as a roadway killer. Drinking and driving kills 28 people a day in the U.S. — about one person every 52 minutes, according to the NHTSA. That is more than 10,000 lives lost each year to drunk driving. 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. 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.

In this article:

Key drunk driving statistics

  • One alcohol-related death occurs every 52 minutes on average, according to the NHTSA.
  • More than 230 children, aged 14 and under, were killed in drunk-driving crashes in 2018, the NHTSA reports.
  • Drunk driving crashes cause more than 10,000 deaths every year, almost 30% of all traffic-related deaths.
  • Drinking and driving costs more than $44 billion in deaths and damages annually.

Drunk driving deaths per year

Drinking and driving kills more than 10,000 people each year, though that number has decreased in recent years. Alcohol-related traffic fatalities make up just under 30% of all traffic fatalities each year, a trend which is also slowly starting to decrease over time:

Year Total traffic fatalities Alcohol-related traffic fatalities % of fatalities from alcohol
2019 36,096 10,142 28%
2018 36,560 10,511 29%
2017 37,473 10,908 29%
2016 37,806 10,967 29%

Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report

Drunk driving statistics 2021

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

Age

  • The parties most at risk for drunk driving are young people, motorcyclists and drivers with prior DWI convictions.
  • Since 1975, minimum-drinking-age laws have saved over 30,000 lives. The minimum drinking age is 21 to curb the high rates of drunk driving fatalities in young people.
Age bracket % of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes
16 – 20 15%
21 – 24 27%
25 – 34 25%
35 – 44 21%
45 – 54 19%
55 – 64 15%
65 – 74 10%
75+ 7%

Source: NHTSA 2018 Traffic Safety Facts

Gender

  • Men’s involvement in drunk driving accidents is four times that of women.
  • Male drunk driving fatalities account for 80.4% of drunk driving fatalities.
  • 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.

Location

  • 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.
  • Florida was close behind, while other states like Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Vermont are considerably safer.
State Total fatalities Total alcohol-related fatalities % of all fatalities involving alcohol
Alabama 953 299 31%
Alaska 80 36 45%
Arizona 1010 355 35%
Arkansas 516 173 34%
California 3563 1241 35%
Colorado 632 221 35%
Connecticut 294 132 45%
Delaware 111 35 32%
District of Columbia 31 10 32%
Florida 3133 958 31%
Georgia 1504 450 30%
Hawaii 117 46 39%
Idaho 231 66 29%
Illinois 1031 378 37%
Indiana 858 271 32%
Iowa 318 100 31%
Kansas 404 98 24%
Kentucky 724 172 24%
Louisiana 768 252 33%
Maine 137 49 36%
Maryland 501 155 31%
Massachusetts 360 146 41%
Michigan 974 325 33%
Minnesota 381 130 34%
Mississippi 664 198 30%
Missouri 921 282 31%
Montana 182 87 48%
Nebraska 230 78 34%
Nevada 330 110 33%
New Hampshire 147 55 37%
New Jersey 564 160 28%
New Mexico 391 140 36%
New York 943 363 38%
North Carolina 1437 485 34%
North Dakota 105 33 31%
Ohio 1068 344 32%
Oklahoma 655 178 27%
Oregon 506 185 37%
Pennsylvania 1190 389 33%
Rhode Island 59 25 42%
South Carolina 1037 335 32%
South Dakota 130 50 38%
Tennessee 1041 289 28%
Texas 3642 1677 46%
Utah 260 70 27%
Vermont 68 23 34%
Virginia 820 286 35%
Washington 546 195 36%
West Virginia 294 71 24%
Wisconsin 588 235 40%
Wyoming 111 39 35%

Source: NHTSA FARS Data, 2018

Effects of COVID on drunk driving fatalities

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 with drunk driving and driving fatalities.

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.

2019 showed a marked decrease in drunk driving fatalities 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 five percent from the same period in 2019, although total miles traveled decreased about 14.5 percent. The fatality rate also increased from 1.10 to 1.35 in just a year. The influence of alcohol, drugs and medication were only 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 continued enforcement from public agencies like the NHTSA and CDC. As awareness continues to improve about the effects of alcohol, 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:

  • The volume of drunk driving deaths has decreased by 44% since 1985.
  • The percentage of traffic fatalities that involved alcohol impairment has decreased by almost 31% since 1985.

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 can avoid physical injury to your person or another, drunk driving can negatively impact 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. Impairment offenses can be classified as 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 and still face license suspension.

Legal repercussions aside, there’s still your car insurance company. When you have a DUI or DWI on your record, insurers generally assess you as a high-risk driver and 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 new drivers must 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 drunk driving are enormous, and teens and new drivers must understand the grave responsibility they are being given.
  • Use 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 are 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 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.

Written by
Lena Borrelli
Insurance Contributor
Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.