It's been 14 years since U.S. states decreased the blood alcohol content (BAC) threshold for drunk driving from 0.10 to 0.08. But unfortunately, drunk driving continues to rack up hundreds of thousands of injuries and tens of thousands of deaths each year. On average, two in every three people will be involved in a drunk driving crash at some point in their life, whether as the driver or as a victim. Read on for some more surprising and sobering statistics about drunk driving in the United States.
Teenagers and Drunk Driving
Teenagers have a triple whammy when it comes to driving while drunk:
- They're not permitted to drink legally, let alone drink and drive;
- They're less likely to know their limits when it comes to alcohol;
- they're less experienced drivers overall.
This means that a drunk teenage driver can often be at far greater risk (and pose a greater risk to others) than a drunk adult driver.
Nearly 4 in 10 traffic deaths among teen drivers list alcohol as a contributing factor.
And parents are often the last to know when it comes to their teen's indulgence in potentially deadly activities. Only one percent of parents interviewed believe that their teen binge drinks, while a whopping one in seven teens admits to binge drinking (defined as drinking four or more alcoholic drinks over just a couple of hours).
This disconnect can prove dangerous if parents don't take the effort to talk to their teens about the perils of drinking and driving.
First Time vs. Repeat DUI Offenders
Many who are arrested for DUI are "one and done." The DUI arrest can prove a wakeup call, and the individual may either stop drinking altogether or be far more cautious about securing a sober ride whenever he or she plans to travel after drinking. This is one reason first-time DUI offenders are often able to avoid jail time by agreeing to a period of probation and staying out of trouble in the interim.
But about one in three DUI arrests involves a repeat offender. These offenders are also more likely than first-time offenders to be involved in serious or fatal DUI crashes, and even with lengthy license suspensions, the recidivism (or re-offense) rate remains high.
DUI Crashes Impact Millions of Lives Each Year Although DUI fatalities have significantly decreased since the 1970s, intoxicated drivers still claim nearly 29 victims each day, or more than one each hour. In 2016 (the last year for which national data is available), a total of 10,497 individuals died as a direct result of a DUI-related crash. Another 290,000 people were injured in DUI crashes, with many of these injuries severe and life-altering.
States With the Most DUI Fatalities May Surprise You
While you might assume that densely populated states or those with large cities would top the list for per-capita DUI fatalities, many of the most dangerous states for sober drivers are actually the least populated.
Montana and North Dakota top the list of states with higher-than-average DUI fatality rates at a respective 9.15 and 7.28 fatalities per 100,000 people.
On the other side of the country, South Carolina and Alabama have DUI fatality rates of 7.98 and 6.60 per 100,000 people, while New Mexico's rate is 7.10 per 100,000.
The factors contributing to each state's rank on the list can vary widely. In Montana and North Dakota, one primary factor is the limited number of law enforcement officers who are responsible for patrolling a huge geographic area.
With fewer police officers monitoring the highways, there's a decreased chance that drunk drivers will be intercepted before they can cause an accident. In southern states, the warm climate can extend "spring break" season and attract out-of-state tourists with plans to party.