Alcohol is a leading cause of traffic fatalities. Drinking and driving kills 28 people a day in the U.S. — about one person every 52 minutes — according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That is more than 10,000 lives lost each year to drunk driving.
A driver is considered legally impaired when their Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) measures 0.08 or higher. The number of drinks it takes to reach this BAC largely depends on gender and weight, but the average is 2-3 drinks of standard pours for adults.
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 under the influence of alcohol in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
- One alcohol-related death occurs every 52 minutes in the U.S., according to the NHTSA.
- Drunk driving accidents are responsible for 10,000 deaths every year, and about 1/3 of all traffic-related deaths, according to the NHTSA.
- In a recent year, more than 230 children were killed in drunk-driving crashes, the NHTSA reports.
- Drinking and driving costs more than $44 billion in deaths and damages annually.
- At the end of 2020, 26.8% of drivers that were killed or seriously injured in a crash had alcohol in their bloodstream, according to the NHTSA.
- The consequences of driving under the influence are severe. A first-offense DUI can cost $10,000 or more in fines and legal fees.
- In 2020, the number of fatal accidents involving alcohol was up 9% compared to 2019, even though drivers traveled 13% fewer miles overall.
- Drunk driving accidents are statistically most likely to occur during the months of June, July and August, according to the NHTSA.
- About 68% of alcohol-related fatalities happen at night and 28% happen during the daytime, based on NHTSA data.
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. The table below includes a breakdown of the total traffic fatalities and alcohol-related traffic fatalities between 2016 and 2019.
|Year||Total traffic fatalities||Alcohol-related traffic fatalities||% of fatalities from alcohol|
Drunk driving statistics 2022
According to data from the NHTSA, drunk driving statistics vary significantly based on age, gender and location. Young people, motorcyclists and drivers with prior DUI convictions are the most likely to drive under the influence.
Young people are the most at-risk for drunk driving. NHTSA data shows that drivers between the ages of 21-24 account for 27% of all fatal alcohol-impaired crashes, followed closely by 25-34 year olds (25%). However, the implementation of minimum-drinking-age laws has been shown to save over 30,000 lives.
In the table below, you can see which age brackets have the highest instances of alcohol-impaired crashes:
|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%|
NHTSA data also reveals that men are more likely to drive drunk than women. Specifically, men are involved in four times the amount of drunk driving accidents as women, and men account for 80% of all drunk driving fatalities. According to 2019 FBI data, men accounted for roughly 81% of people arrested for drunk driving, compared to just 19% of women.
Drunk driving statistics by state
Although drunk driving is a serious issue affecting the entire country, the rate of alcohol-related accidents and traffic fatalities is higher in some states. According to NHTSA data from 2018, the states with the highest amount of annual alcohol-related fatalities are:
- Texas (1,677)
- California (1,241)
- Florida (958)
Conversely, the states (not including Washington D.C.) with the lowest amount of annual alcohol-related fatalities are:
- Rhode Island (25)
- Vermont (23)
- North Dakota (33)
In addition, drunk driving fatalities tend to occur more often in populous states. Adjusting for population, the states with the highest percentage of fatal accidents caused by drunk driving include:
- Montana (48%)
- Texas (46%)
- Alaska (45%)
- Connecticut (45%)
On the other hand, the states with the lowest percentage of fatal accidents caused by drunk driving are:
- Kansas (24%)
- Kentucky (24%)
- West Virginia (24%)
In the table below, you can see the state-by-state breakdown of total traffic fatalities, total alcohol-related traffic fatalities and the percentage of all fatalities that involve drunk driving:
|State||Total fatalities||Total alcohol-related fatalities||% of all fatalities involving alcohol|
|District of Columbia||31||10||32%|
Public perception of drunk driving
Most drivers understand the grave seriousness of drunk driving and the consequences it can bring, both financially, legally and morally. Data shows that many U.S. drivers are concerned about the prevalence of drunk driving in the country, but a surprising number of people admit to driving under the influence of alcohol.
According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation’s (TIRF) 2021 report and survey:
- In 2021, 65% of U.S. drivers surveyed said they were “very or extremely concerned” about drunk driving, compared to 59% of those concerned about COVID-19.
- 5% of drivers reported they drove when they thought they were over the legal BAC limit in 2021, which was a 35.5% increase from 2020. That percentage of drivers is the highest it’s been since 2015.
- Of these respondents, 10.4% thought they wouldn’t get caught and 40.5% thought that despite being over the legal limit, they were still okay to drive.
- Men were 143% more likely to report driving when they thought they were over the legal limit than women. Men were also 68.4% more likely than women to report driving impaired often or very often.
- 8% of respondents aged 21-29 reported driving under the influence often or very often, compared to only 5.6% of those aged 50-59 years.
Drunk driving statistics through the years
The rate of drunk driving has decreased in the last 10 years, 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 declined. In addition, the rise of technology, such as ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, have made getting a sober ride much more accessible.
Historical data reflects this 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.
- According to TIRF, from 2020 to 2021, there was an 18.4% increase in the fatality rate per vehicle miles traveled as COVID-19 restrictions lessened.
The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility states, “Since 1982, drunk driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways have decreased 50%, while total traffic fatalities have declined nearly 17 percent.” However, the organization notes that, “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. What would happen if you drove under the influence and killed a passenger in your car, or another driver? How would your loved ones cope if you lost your life in a drunk driving accident? Getting into an accident while under the influence can lead to serious legal action, like vehicular manslaughter, which can carry a long prison sentence.
No one likes to think that a few drinks can negatively impact the rest of your life, but it’s the truth. Here are a few consequences that are associated with drunk driving.
Drunk driving and car insurance rates
Even if you can avoid physical injury to your person or another driver, driving under the influence will have a significant impact on the cost of your car insurance. When you have a DUI or DWI on your record, car insurance companies generally assess you as a high-risk driver and increase your premiums to cover that increased risk.
For example, the average car insurance premium from State Farm is $1,422 per year, if you have a clean record. But after a DUI, the average State Farm car insurance premium jumps to $2,182 per year. 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.
Legal implications of drunk driving
Drunk driving laws have changed 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 DUI 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 can face temporary license suspension. If you cause an accident while drunk and there are injuries or fatalities, the legal consequences are much more severe.
How to prevent drunk driving
Public attitude toward drinking and driving continues to shift as more and more families are affected by the negative consequences of alcohol. Today, there is a lot more education and many more laws, all designed to prevent driving under the influence, particularly among new drivers.
If you are a parent or caregiver, it’s important to educate your kids about the consequences of drinking and driving. Data shows that young adults between the ages of 21-24 have the highest rates of drunk driving fatalities. Here are a few ways that drunk driving can be prevented:
- Talk to your kid. If you have new drivers at home, educate them on the importance of not drinking and driving as soon as they get their driver’s license. Be sure they understand the extreme consequences it can have from a legal perspective, not just getting in trouble at home.
- Spend the night. If you’re out drinking and you can’t get home safely, consider spending the night in a safe place until the morning. It’s always better to just sleep it off at a trusted friend’s house or nearby hotel than to risk driving home.
Driving drunk is never the right choice.