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It all starts with the thought, “I’m fine.” Maybe that person goes to a party at a friend’s house and has a few beers or glasses of wine at dinner. The guest says goodbye and climbs into the driver’s seat to head home. What happens next can have costly, if not deadly consequences.
Alcohol has infiltrated our societal norms to the point that many people don’t even think twice before drinking and driving. In fact, nearly 2% of adults in the United States have reported driving after consuming too much alcohol.1
The reality is that operating a motor vehicle requires the driver to be fully attentive, alert and able to react quickly to changes in the environment. However, alcohol impairs coordination, reaction time, decision-making and vision—all of which increase the risk of adverse events, such as car accidents and death.
Being convicted of a DUI can negatively impact your life in a number of ways. It can lead to:
- Bodily harm.
- Financial burden.
- Jail time.
- Criminal record.
- Suspended license.
- Higher insurance rates.
- Loss of employment.
- Personal embarrassment.
What Is a DUI?
An impaired driver is someone who is operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering drugs. It can also refer to a driver who is negatively impacted by excessive sleepiness, distractions such as cell phone use, or having a medical condition that affects the ability to drive. Impaired drivers are responsible for more than 50% of all traffic accidents.2
At low levels of alcohol consumption over a responsible period of time, a person’s ability to safely drive a car isn’t hindered. When someone drinks alcohol in more than moderate doses, however, it can impair his or her ability to make decisions and can negatively affect the ability to operate a motor vehicle.
An individual can be arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while impaired (DWI) if his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08% or higher.3 A commercial driver must not exceed .04%, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for people under the age of 21 years.
Number of Arrests and Incarcerations
More than 1.1 million people were arrested for drunk driving in 2014. While this number may seem high, it represents only about 1% of those who have reported driving under the influence of alcohol.4 Since many drunk drivers don’t experience any detrimental consequences for their actions, it can reinforce their behaviors and create the false belief that driving while impaired is okay.
Death Rates in the U.S. from Drunk Drivers
Driving drunk doesn’t just negatively impact the driver. The second an impaired driver gets behind the wheel, he or she puts the lives of many others in their hands. In the United States, there are 28 people who die every day in accidents caused by drunk drivers.4
How Many Overall Traffic Fatalities Involve Drunk Drivers?
Naturally, not all traffic accidents involve alcohol. Many driving fatalities are the result of distraction, speeding, weather conditions and animals—as well as many other factors.
Out of all traffic fatalities in 2014, however, nearly 1/3 of those did involve alcohol.4 And up to 20% of traffic deaths in children 14 years of age and younger were caused by a drunk driver.
How Many People Are Killed Each Year from Drunk Drivers?
In 2014, there were nearly 10,000 people who died in car accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver.4 Thankfully, the amount of people ages 12 and older who drink and drive has been steadily decreasing since 2002.5 In 2002, 14.2% of this age group were reported as being involved in alcohol-impaired driving. That figure decreased to just under 11% in 2013.
Deaths caused by drunk driving have also reduced. There were 27% fewer deaths from drunk driving in 2014 compared to 2005.6 In 2005, there were over 13,500 fatalities associated with alcohol-impaired driving. This number dropped to just over 11,700 in 2008—and even further reduced to 9,865 in 2011. The amount of deaths then increased slightly for the next 2 years, falling back down to under 10,000 in 2014.
Deaths by Age
How many deaths from drunk driving happen in each age group? In 2012, the death rates from drunk driving for every 100,000 people were as follows:7
- 0-20 years of age: 1.3.
- 21-34 years of age: 6.7.
- 35 and older: 3.1.
The age group with the highest rates of drunk driving was shown to be the 21-34-year-old age group. It was also found that 209 children under the age of 15 years died as a result of impaired driving in 2014.4 Of the children who died, more than 50% were riding in the car with the impaired driver.
Deaths by Gender
The discrepancy of deaths between genders is significant. Men are far more likely to die in alcohol-related car crashes than women. In fact, in 2012, about 4 times more men died than women in accidents involving drunk drivers.7
In 2014, 1,511 passengers who were riding with an alcohol-impaired driver died as a result of a car accident.6 This figure amounts to 15% of the overall deaths caused by drunk driving.
Death Rates by State
Some states experience more deaths from drunk driving than others. The states with the highest 2012 death rates per 100,000 people are:8
- North Dakota: 11.3.
- Montana: 9.4.
- South Carolina: 7.6
- Wyoming: 7.1.
- Mississippi: 6.1.
- South Dakota: 5.7.
Conversely, the states with the lowest 2012 death rates include:8
- Utah: 1.2.
- New York: 1.7.
- New Jersey: 1.8.
- Massachusetts: 1.8.
- California: 2.
- Washington: 2.1.
Who Gets Killed the Most?
Drunk driving tends to kill some types of individuals more than others.
Drivers with Previous Driving While Impaired (DWI) Convictions
It should come as no surprise that those who have a history of driving under the influence of alcohol are more likely to get killed in a car crash than those who don’t. Intoxicated drivers who die in a motor vehicle accident are 7 times more likely to have been arrested for a DUI in the past than those who were sober.4
Young adults also have an increased risk for being involved in fatal crashes. In 2014, 30% of those who died in alcohol-related car crashes were between 21 and 24 years old—and 29% were between 25 and 34 years of age.4
Nearly 30% of motorcyclists who died in accidents in 2014 had blood alcohol concentrations above the legal limit.4 The age range of motorcyclists who are most often killed in alcohol-related crashes is 40-49 years of age.
Which States Have the Most DUIs?
California had the highest number of DUI arrests in 2014 with over 155,000 arrests, while Alabama had as little as 162.9 Getting convicted of a DUI is a serious and criminal offense. Driving under the influence can have harmful and even fatal ramifications.
In addition to risking your life and the lives of those around you, you could also face license suspension, fines, mandated addiction treatment and jail time. The fees listed in the chart vary largely depending on your age, number of previous offenses, bodily harm inflicted and blood alcohol concentration level.3
|State||# of DUIs||Fee Range|
|California||155,285||Up to $1,000|
|District of Columbia||10||$1,000-$10,000|
|Idaho||7,439||Up to $5,000|
|Illinois||3,653||Minimum of $1,000|
|Louisiana||5,598||Up to $2,000|
|Michigan||28,072||$100 to $1,000|
|Missouri||22,187||Up to $500|
|New Hampshire||4,528||$500 minimum17|
The state with the highest maximum DUI fee is Massachusetts at $50,000. The state with the lowest maximum fee is in Missouri at $500. Many of the costs and penalties are contingent upon what state you’re in and the harm that your DUI has caused.
As you can see, drinking and driving simply isn’t worth the risk. And financial hardship is only one of the negative results of getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink. Many people also wind up serving jail time as a result of this one bad decision to drink and drive. If you’re planning on drinking, make arrangements to have a designated driver or call a taxi. The extra planning or money spent is well worth your life and the lives of others.
Alcohol’s Effects on Your Driving
How much alcohol does it take to affect your driving? Even as little as two drinks could potentially have an impact on your driving safety:
BAC @ .02% (2 drinks**): Reduction in visual functioning, impaired ability to do two things at once.
BAC @ .05% (3 drinks**): Coordination problems, trouble steering, slowed reaction time, decreased ability to follow moving objects.
BAC @ .08% (4 drinks**): Concentration issues, memory loss, difficulty controlling speed, impaired ability to detect signals and scan visual field, perception distortion.
BAC @ .10% (5 drinks**): Trouble staying in your lane and braking properly.
BAC @ .15% (7 drinks**): Significant impairment in controlling your car, paying attention to the road and processing visual and auditory stimuli.
*Blood alcohol concentration (BAC): The calculations above are based on how much a man weighing 160 pounds would need to consume in order to reach the BAC listed.
** U.S. drink sizes: A standard drink is the equivalent of .6 ounces of pure alcohol. Alcohol content varies greatly depending on the type of drink. For example, one glass of wine is not equal to one beer.
- 5 ounces of liquor – also known as a “shot” – that contains 40% alcohol. Examples of liquor include:
- Gin, rum, whisky, vodka.
- 12 ounces of beer that contains 5% alcohol.
- It’s a good idea to check the alcohol content of your beer, because alcohol content in beer can get as high as 11% or 12%, depending on the brewery.
- 8 ounces of malt liquor that contains 7% alcohol.
- 5 ounces of wine that contains around 12% alcohol.
- Likewise, you should make sure to check the alcohol content of your wine, because it can get as high as 16%.
History of DUIs
In the early 20th century, shortly after cars started to become more widely available, it became apparent that driving under the influence was hazardous and potentially fatal. DUI laws were then created in order to decrease impaired driving and the dangers associated with it.
These laws weren’t implemented all at once across the country, however. New York was the frontrunner for adopting these laws. Below is a timeline of the U.S. laws against drunk driving:24
- 1910: New York passed a law which prohibited people from driving under the influence of alcohol.
- Not long after New York, California enacted a law to forbid impaired driving.
- The other 48 states adopted DUI laws soon thereafter.
- The laws didn’t specify what levels of intoxication qualified as “impaired.”
- 1938: It was determined that the legal alcohol limit was a BAC of .15%.
- 1970’s: DUI laws were tightened and penalties became more severe. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) heavily influenced this shift.
- 1988: Legal drinking age was raised to 21 in all 50 states – which decreased the number of young people dying in alcohol-related car crashes.25
- Around this time, the legal limit was lowered to .10%, followed by .08%.
- Many states adopted a zero-tolerance policy that forbid people under the age of 21 to drive a car with any alcohol in their system.
The adoption of DUI laws and subsequent changes to the legal limit have proven to be beneficial in decreasing the number of fatalities in people who have a BAC of .08 or higher.26
One sign that someone has an addiction to alcohol is that he or she repeatedly drinks alcohol in dangerous situations—such as before driving a car, for example.27 Some states require that those convicted of a DUI attend alcohol education classes or treatment for alcohol abuse. Research has suggested that those who obtain treatment for alcoholism are less likely to relapse than those who achieve sobriety on their own without any additional recovery services.28
One study examined the length of abstinence among alcoholics—as well as among drug addicts—and found that the longer someone remained abstinent, the lower the risk of relapse. Historically, statistics have indicated that—of the recovering alcoholics and addicts that are able to refrain from drinking or using drugs for an entire year—less than 50% will relapse.29 Moreover, once recovering addicts achieve 5 years of abstinence, the relapse rate drops to below 15%.
Getting chronic drunk drivers the help they need in order to recover from alcohol dependence can help decrease problematic drinking, hazardous behaviors and potential fatalities that result from alcohol-impaired driving.
How to Prevent Drunk Driving
In addition to the strict and severe penalties associated with driving under the influence, there are many other preventative tactics that can help reduce alcohol-impaired individuals from getting behind the wheel.
You are probably know that getting convicted of a DUI can cause your driver’s license to be suspended, which means you cannot drive until your suspension period is up.30 And driving without a license can lead to even more severe legal penalties.
Sobriety checkpoints are designated locations where police officers evaluate drivers for intoxication and impairment. The knowledge of these traffic stops helps to discourage drunk driving and decreases crashes involving alcohol by about 9%.4
School Instructional Programs
Many schools have begun to implement educational programs that teach students about the dangers of riding with drunk drivers in an attempt to decrease poor decision-making.30
Alcohol Ignition Interlock
Drivers who have been arrested for driving while under the influence may get alcohol ignition devices installed in their cars.4 These devices help deter drunk driving behaviors by preventing the driver from operating the vehicle if his or her blood alcohol concentration is above a given safety limit.
Rearrests for drunk driving are decreased by almost 70% when alcohol ignition interlocks are installed. But unfortunately, only about 1/5th of people with DUI convictions use this preventative device.31 With the implementation of state alcohol ignition interlock programs, it’s expected that interlock use will increase.
Find Help for Your Alcohol Addiction
If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction to alcohol, don’t hesitate to seek help. Call our helpline at 1-888-744-0069 to speak to a treatment support specialist about different recovery programs. There is someone available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Motor vehicle safety, drunk driving state data and maps.
- S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus: impaired driving.
- DMV.org. DUI & DWI.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Impaired driving: get the facts.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). Results from the 2013 national survey on drug use and health: summary of national findings.
- U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2015). Alcohol-impaired driving.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Sobering facts: drunk driving in Alabama.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Drunk driving death rates U.S. map.
- Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. State map.
- The Alaska Court System. (2013). About D.U.I. (driving under the influence).
- Lesh, D. N. (2013). The Arkansas DWI guide.
- Stim, R. (2016). Driving laws: Connecticut drunk driving fines & penalties.
- Iowa Department of Public Safety. (2013). Iowa’s OWI law.
- Kansas Department of Transportation. Kansas DUI laws.
- Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. (2014). DUI laws in Kentucky.
- Minnesota Department of Public Safety. (2015). DWI consequences.
- Stim, R. (2016). Driving laws: New Hampshire drunk driving fines & penalties.
- State of New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. (2015). DUI: driving under the influence.
- Stim, R. (2016). Driving laws: Oregon DUI laws, fines and penalties.
- Stim, R. (2016). Driving laws: South Dakota DUI laws, and penalties.
- Stim, R. (2016). Driving laws: Utah DUI laws, fines and penalties.
- Wisconsin Department of Transportation. (2012). OWI and related alcohol and drug penalties.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Effects of blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
- LiquorLaws.net. (2009). History of DUI laws.
- National Institute of Health. (2013). Underage drinking.
- U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.(2008). Statistical analysis of alcohol-related driving trends, 1982-2005.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Print.
- Moos, R. H, Moos, R. H. (2006). Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction, 101(2), 212-22.
- Dennis, M. L., Foss, M. A., Scott, C. K. (2007). An eight-year perspective on the relationship between the duration of abstinence and other aspects of recovery. Eval Review, 31(6), 585-612.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). What works: strategies to reduce or prevent drunk driving.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Increasing alcohol ignition interlock use: successful practices for states.
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