Drinking and Driving Accidents

In U.S. the statistics show a dire situation: alcohol-impaired driving will affect one in three Americans during their lifetimes (NHTSA). Drinking and driving accidents, also known as alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, kill someone approximately every 30 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes (NHTSA).

Over 17,000 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes each year, representing 41% of all traffic-related deaths (NHTSA) (See the drunk driving death clock here). Approximately 1.5 million drivers are arrested every year for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That's just over 1% of the estimated 120 million or more episodes of impaired driving that occur among U.S. adults each year (NHTSA).

Other facts bring serious anxiety when talking about alcohol related accidents. Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) have been identified as factors in 18% of deaths among motor vehicle drivers. Other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol. Nearly two-thirds of children under 15 who died in alcohol-related crashes between 1985 and 1996 were riding with the drinking driver. More than two-thirds of the drinking drivers were old enough to be the parent of the child who was killed, and fewer than 20% of the children killed were properly restrained at the time of the crash.

These statistics show us the number of tragic events on U.S. highways is huge. And the costs are enormous too, both in human lives and dollars. In its publication The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that alcohol-related crashes in 2000 were associated with more than $51 billion in total costs.

The research demonstrates that the main group of risk is male drivers. They are involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes almost twice as often as female drivers when their alcoholconcentration is 0.10% or greater. A BAC of 0.10% is higher than the legal limit in all states.

Another important item to note is that at all levels of blood alcohol concentration, the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than it is for older people. In 2001, for example, 25% of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking alcohol. Young men ages 18 to 20 (too young to buy alcohol legally) report driving while impaired almost as frequently as men ages 21 to 34.

Some relevant prevention strategies are already taken into consideration. Effective measures to prevent injuries and deaths from impaired driving include promptly suspending the driver's licenses of people who drive while intoxicated and installing alcohol breath testers in establishments that serve alcohol by the drink. Other measures include zero tolerance laws for drivers younger than 21 years old in all states, sobriety checkpoints, multi-faceted community-based education programs about alcohol issues and DUI prevention.

Civic organizations such as MADD suggest supplementary measures like reducing the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration to 0.05%, raising state and federal alcohol excise taxes or implementing compulsory blood alcohol testing when traffic crashes result in injury.