Drunk Driving Statistics in the U.S.

Drinking and driving are two things that U.S. citizens love and cannot live without. Alcohol is part and parcel of our lives. We use it to celebrate any meaningful event, whether a joyful ceremony or an unfortunate occurrence. Most people use it to drown their sorrows and relieve stress, even though countless studies have proved that it aggravates stress levels and only offers temporary relief.

Drunk Driving Statistics in the United States

Drunk driving is a serious problem in the United States and is a leading cause of road accidents, injuries, and deaths. When a person drinks alcohol, it impairs their judgment, reaction time, and overall ability to drive safely.

Drunk driving is especially dangerous as it puts the driver, passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers on the road at risk. Despite calls by the authorities for drivers not to drive while under the influence of alcohol, a significant number of drivers don’t heed this advice and warning.

In 2019, drunk driving resulted in $68.9 billion in economic costs across the United States according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Moreover, in 2021 the NHTSA reported that 31% of the drivers who were seriously injured or lost their lives in a car crash were drunk.

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of drunk driving accidents increased by 9%. These drunk driving statistics are worrying, bearing in mind that during this period, there was a national lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though drivers drove for 13% fewer miles on average during the pandemic, they still did so while under the influence of alcohol.

Another shocking statistic is that 230 children died in drunk-driving crashes, and 1/3 of all reported traffic-related deaths occur due to drunk driving. Every year, more than 10,000 people lose their lives on the road.

Notably, 68% of alcohol-related car crashes happen at night. Only 28% of accidents occur during the daytime. According to the NHTSA’s drunk driving statistics, most accidents occur in June, July, and August.

Below are more drunk driving statistics in the United States as documented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 

  1. Alcohol-related accidents:  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, there were 10,142 deaths in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States, representing 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the country. This means that, on average, one person dies in an alcohol-impaired driving crash every 50 minutes.
  2. Drunk driving accidents by age:  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2020, young people (aged 15-24) had the highest percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes, with a BAC of .08% or higher. This age group accounted for 31% of those deaths, followed by drivers aged 25-34 (30%) and 35-44 (24%).
  3. Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and fatal crashes:  The NHTSA also found that in 2020, the highest percentage of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes was among drivers with a BAC of .15% or higher (nearly twice the legal limit), representing 46% of all alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.
  4. Risk of fatal crashes by drink:  Research has shown that the risk of being involved in a fatal crash increases significantly with each additional drink. According to the CDC, the risk of a collision increases by about 50% for a driver with a BAC of .08%. The risk increases by as much as 400% for a driver with a BAC of .15%.
  5. Economic cost of drunk driving accidents:  The CDC estimates that the economic cost of alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States was $44 billion in 2010. This includes medical expenses, property damage, and lost productivity.

Drunk Driving Statistics Based on Age, Gender, and State

Even though drunk driving is a problem across all age groups, drunk driving statistics show that certain age groups account for most of the accidents.

Drunk Driving by Age Group

According to NHTSA, young people are the most susceptible to drunk driving. Drunk drivers aged between 21 and 24 accounted for 27% of the fatal crashes reported across all states in 2019. This age group is followed by 25- 34 drivers, who account for 25% of all fatal accidents.

Fortunately, enforcing the minimum drinking age laws in different states has reduced the number of cases and saved approximately 30,000 lives.

Age range % of drunk 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.

Drunk Driving by Gender

Surprisingly, NHTSA reports that men are more likely to drive while intoxicated than women. Men are involved in four times more drunk driving-related accidents than women. Drunk male drivers cause 80% of the drunk driving fatalities documented. In 2019, FBI data shows that 81% of people arrested for drunk driving were men. Only 19% were women.

Drunk Driving Statistics by State

First, it’s important to note that drunk driving affects the entire country, not just a select group of states. The three states with the highest number of drunk driving accidents are:

  • Texas – 1,677
  • California – 1,241
  • Florida – 958

States that obey the don’t drink and drive laws report the lowest number of alcohol-related accidents. They include:

  • Rhode Island –25
  • Vermont – 23
  • North Dakota – 33

Highly populated states tend to have the highest number of drunk driving fatalities. They include:

  • Montana – 48%
  • Texas – 46%
  • Alaska – 45%
  • Connecticut – 45%

The following states reported the lowest number of drunk driving accidents in 2019.

  • Kansas – 24%
  • Kentucky – 24%
  • West Virginia – 24%

The drunk driving statistics table below gives a clearer perspective of how drunk driving accidents are spread across the United States.

State Total fatalities Total alcohol-related fatalities % of all fatalities involving alcohol
Alabama 953 299 31%
Alaska 80 36 45%
Arizona 1,010 355 35%
Arkansas 516 173 34%
California 3,563 1,241 35%
Colorado 632 221 35%
Connecticut 294 132 45%
Delaware 111 35 32%
District of Columbia 31 10 32%
Florida 3,133 958 31%
Georgia 1,504 450 30%
Hawái 117 46 39%
Idaho 231 66 29%
Illinois 1,031 378 37%
Indiana 858 271 32%
Iowa 318 100 31%
Kansas 404 98 24%
Kentucky 724 172 24%
Luisiana 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 1,437 485 34%
North Dakota 105 33 31%
Ohio 1068 344 32%
Oklahoma 655 178 27%
Oregon 506 185 37%
Pennsylvania 1,190 389 33%
Rhode Island 59 25 42%
South Carolina 1,037 335 32%
South Dakota 130 50 38%
Tennessee 1,041 289 28%
Texas 3,642 1,677 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.

What is Drunk Driving?

Drunk driving, also known as driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), refers to operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs. When a person drinks alcohol or uses drugs, it impairs their judgment, reaction time, and overall ability to drive safely.

In the United States, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. However, even a small amount of alcohol or drugs can impair driving ability, and it is generally not safe to drink or use drugs and drive at all.

There are several ways that law enforcement officers detect drunk drivers, including sobriety checkpoints, field sobriety tests, and breathalyzer tests. If a driver is found intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, they face criminal charges, fines, and suspension or even revocation of their driver’s license.

In some states, repeat offenders are required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle, which prevents the car from starting if the driver’s BAC is above a certain level. First-offense DWI can cost between $10,000 and $30,000 in legal fees and fines.

In 2020, one person died every 45 minutes from a drunk-driving-related crash on our roads. It’s estimated that 32 people lose their lives every day in fatal drunk-driving crashes.

Drunk driving is a serious and preventable problem, and there are several steps that people can take to avoid it. These include designating a sober driver, using public transportation or ride-sharing services, and making arrangements to stay overnight if necessary.

It is also important for friends and loved ones to intervene if they see someone who is about to drive while drunk or under the influence of drugs. These steps will help keep our roads safe and prevent the devastating consequences of drunk driving.

Drunk Driving Statistics

What’s The Public Perception of Drunk Driving?

The public perception of drunk driving in the United States is generally negative. Drunk driving is viewed as a serious and dangerous behavior that puts not only the driver but also passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers on the road at risk. It is also illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and is widely recognized as a serious crime.

Numerous public education campaigns and initiatives have been aimed at reducing drunk driving and increasing awareness of the dangers and consequences of this behavior. These efforts contribute to the general public’s negative perception of drunk driving.

Despite the negative perception of drinking and driving, drunk driving statistics show it remains a significant problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, there were 10,142 deaths in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States, representing 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the country.

These drunk driving statistics demonstrate the ongoing need for efforts to prevent drunk driving and to educate the public about the risks and consequences of this behavior.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Driving Capability?

The risk of a fatal accident increases with an increase in the concentration of alcohol in the blood. Here is a table to give you a clearer perspective of how different blood alcohol concentrations affect a driver’s ability to drive safely.

BAC in g/dl Effects on the Driver’s Body Predicted Outcomes
0.02

Slight body warmth, altered mood, and mild loss of judgment

Reduced visual reaction time and inability to multitask (perform two tasks at the same time due to low attention)
0.05 Impaired judgment, exaggerated behavior such as road rage, reduced concentration on the road, the release of inhibition Significantly reduced coordination, inability to accurately track the movement of other vehicles on the road, reduced response time to emergency situations, and difficulty steering and staying on the right lane.
.08 Reduced muscle coordination which results in poor speech, vision, hearing, reaction time, and balance. Inability to detect or anticipate danger and respond appropriately, impaired memory, judgment, reasoning, and self-control. Short-term memory loss, reduced speed control, lower information processing capability such as visual search and signal detection, impaired perception about other motorists and the status of the road.
0.10 Slurred speech, slowed thinking, poor coordination, reduced control of the vehicle, and a significant drop in reaction time.

Inability to maintain lane discipline and brake appropriately.

0.15

Less muscle control than normal, vomiting, major loss of balance

Total inability to control the vehicle, lack of concentration on the driving task, reduced auditory and visual information processing.

How Much Can You Drink and Drive in the U.S.?

As earlier mentioned, it’s illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher in the United States. BAC measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream and is typically determined through a breathalyzer test. It is important to note that the BAC limit is not a measure of how much a person can drink and still be safe to drive.

Drinking and driving are generally unsafe, as even a small amount of alcohol can impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Factors such as a person’s weight, age, gender, and the amount of food they have eaten determine how alcohol affects them and their ability to drive safely.

It is also important to note that different states have varying BAC limits for certain groups of drivers, such as commercial drivers and drivers under the age of 21. For example, the BAC limit for commercial drivers is .04% in most states, and many states have a BAC limit of 0.00% for drivers under the age of 21 (also known as a “zero tolerance” policy).

It is impossible to accurately determine how much alcohol a person can consume and still be under the legal limit to drive. The safest course of action is not to drink and drive at all. If a person plans to drink alcohol, they should make arrangements for a sober designated driver or use a ride-sharing service or public transport.

Drunk driving is a serious and preventable problem, and people need to understand the risks and consequences of this behavior. In addition to the legal penalties, drunk driving has serious and potentially fatal consequences, including accidents, injuries, and deaths.

Is Drug-Impaired Driving Common?

Drug-impaired driving, also known as driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), is a significant problem in the United States. Like drunk driving, drug-impaired driving puts not only the driver but also passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers on the road at risk.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2019, about 17% of drivers in fatal crashes tested positive for drugs, including legal and illegal substances. Of those drivers, about 44% tested positive for marijuana, while about 16% tested positive for a combination of marijuana and other drugs.

It is important to note that the prevalence of drug-impaired driving may be underreported, as it can be difficult to detect and prosecute compared to drunk driving. There are currently no reliable roadside tests for drug impairment, and law enforcement officers must rely on field sobriety tests and other indicators to determine if a driver is under the influence of drugs.

Is Drunk Driving Legal in Any U.S. State?

No, drunk driving is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the United States. It is generally defined as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

In all states, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or higher. BAC measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream and is typically determined through a breathalyzer test.

However, it is important to note that the BAC limit is not a measure of how much a person can drink and still be safe to drive. Even a small amount of alcohol can impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.

5 Actionable Ways of Preventing and Dealing with Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is a real problem in the United States that the government needs to deal with to save lives and prevent property loss. However, you cannot leave everything to the government.

Here are five actionable steps to contribute to this noble initiative.

  1. Designate a sober driver:  Before you go out, choose a designated driver who will not drink alcohol. The designated driver can take turns driving to ensure that everyone gets home safely.
  2. Use a ride-sharing service or public transportation:  If you don’t have a designated driver, consider using a ride-sharing service or public transport to get home.
  3. Stay overnight:  If you are at a location where you cannot arrange for a sober driver or alternative transportation, consider staying overnight. Many hotels and restaurants offer discounts for designated drivers. Concisely, staying overnight at a hotel is safer than driving home after drinking.
  4. Intervene if necessary:  If you see someone who is about to drive while drunk, intervene and try to prevent them from getting behind the wheel. Offer to drive them home, call a ride-sharing service, or find another solution to help them get home safely.
  5. Educate others:  Share information about the dangers of drunk driving with friends, family, and coworkers. Encourage them to make responsible decisions about alcohol and driving and to intervene if necessary to prevent drunk driving.

Drunk Driving Statistics, In Summary

Drunk driving may seem convenient, but the consequences are severe and costly. The drunk driving statistics on fatalities and the impact on insurance premiums speak for themselves: it’s simply not worth the risk.

While the number of drunk driving deaths has decreased, more work is still being done to prevent this dangerous behavior. Ride-sharing apps make it easy to find a safe ride home.

The key to preventing drunk driving is to plan and make responsible choices. Leave your car at home if there is a chance you will be drinking, and don’t pressure friends to drink if they don’t want to.

Remember to appreciate and support the designated driver – they are helping to keep everyone safe, and drunk driving statistics down.

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