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
- Drunk driving deaths per year
- Drunk driving statistics 2021
- Drunk driving statistics through the years
- The consequences of drunk driving
- How to prevent drunk driving
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|
Drunk driving statistics 2021
In the latest drunk driving statistics from the NHTSA, age, gender and location are significant factors.
- 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%|
Source: NHTSA 2018 Traffic Safety Facts
- 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.
- 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|
|District of Columbia||31||10||32%|
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)
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.