With an increasing focus on the problem of drunk driving, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities have been decreasing steadily. However, 28 people are still killed every day in the U.S. due to drinking and driving. We still lose 10,000 of our fellow citizens every year from drunk driving.
A drunk driving incident impacts many people in very serious ways. Of course, the worst-case scenario leaves families devastated by the death or severe injury of a loved one. These consequences are irreversible. Other people are also impacted, especially if a family member is sentenced to jail time, and the incident inevitably adds to financial stresses.
Even if the situation does not result in serious injury, a drunk driving conviction can be costly as fines and attorneys’ fees escalate. Long term, the cost of insurance increases dramatically, and even the best carriers will likely impose higher premiums and other restrictions on coverage.
- Over 1 million people were arrested for drunk driving in 2019, according to the FBI.
- A person dies of drunk driving about every 50 minutes, according to the NHTSA.
- Drunk driving accounts for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the US, according to the NHTSA.
- In a recent year, more than 230 children were killed in drunk-driving crashes.
50 shocking drunk driving statistics
Accidents and arrests
- In 2016, more than one million drivers were arrested for drunk driving or driving under the influence of narcotics. (CDC)
- In 2019, 31% of drivers involved in single-vehicle crashes with fatalities were alcohol-impaired. (NHTSA)
- 13% of drivers involved in multiple-vehicle fatal crashes in 2019 were intoxicated. (NHTSA)
- Alcohol involvement in fatal accidents is most prominent after dark. In 2019, 49% of fatally injured drivers had blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or above between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., while 18% of fatally injured drivers had a similar BAC during the daytime. (IIHS)
Deaths and injuries
- Each day, approximately 28 people are killed in the United States in drunk-driving accidents. That’s one person every 52 minutes. (NHTSA)
- Drunk driving causes more than 10,000 deaths every year and about 1/3 of all traffic-related deaths. (NHTSA)
- During the period from 2010 to 2019, there were more than 10,000 drunk driving-related fatalities each year. (NHTSA)
- Drunk driving fatalities decreased by 5.3 percent, from 10,710 to 10,142, in 2019 compared with 2018. (NHTSA)
- In 2019, approximately 28% of all traffic fatalities resulted from alcohol impairment. (NHTSA)
- In 2019, the percentage of drunk driving deaths reached its lowest level since 1982, when the NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. Still, 10,142 died in drunk driving accidents that year. (NHTSA)
- Despite improvements, drunk driving is still the leading killer on the country’s roadways. (MADD.org)
- The percentage of fatally injured drivers with a blood alcohol count (BAC) of 0.08% or above declined from a 49% high in 1982 to 33% in 1994. This trend has leveled off since 1994 though BAC’s are still falling, with 28% of fatally injured drivers with these BAC levels in 2019. (IIHS)
- In 2019, with 28% of people involved in fatal car crashes driving under the influence, 32% of these drivers were male, and 21% were female. (IIHS)
- In 2018, more than 230 children were killed in drunk-driving accidents. (Legaljobs)
- For traffic fatalities in 2018 among children 14 and younger, 22% of those deaths occurred in drunk driving-related accidents. (NHTSA)
- Younger people are the most frequently involved in drunk driving accidents. Drivers between 21 and 24 are responsible for 27% of all fatal drunk driving accidents. Drivers between 25 and 34 account for 25%. (NHTSA)
- In 2018, alcohol impairment in fatal accidents was 3.4 times greater at night than during the day. (NHTSA)
- From 2018 to 2019, driving fatalities decreased by 5.3%, with a total of 568 fewer fatalities. (NHTSA)
- The national rate of drunk driving fatalities in accidents in 2018 was 0.33 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT). This was a reduction from 0.34 per VMT in 2017. (NCLS.org)
- Nearly one-third of all traffic accident fatalities involve drunk drivers, those with BACs of .08 g/dL or above. (NHTSA)
- Approximately 1/5 of children killed in traffic accidents lose their lives due to alcohol-impaired drivers. (NHTSA)
- 14% of drivers involved in car accident fatalities during the week are alcohol-impaired. Double that amount (28%) of drivers in fatal accidents are impaired on the weekends. (NHTSA)
- In 2018, 25% of motorcycle accident fatalities were alcohol-related, 21% for passenger vehicles, and 19% for light trucks, including pickups, SUVs, and vans. The percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers of large trucks involved in fatal accidents was low, at 3%. (NHTSA)
- To reach the legal level of intoxication, a 180-pound man requires approximately four drinks, while a 120-pound woman requires about two drinks. These numbers can vary based on the alcohol content in each drink and the amount of time taken to consume them.
Legal limits and consequences
- States and localities have adopted laws concerning minimum BAC levels for legal intoxication while driving. If a driver has this BAC level or above, the person has broken the law, regardless of whether other evidence supports sobriety or driving capability. (Alcohol.org)
- In 1988, President Bill Clinton recommended a national BAC limit defining legal intoxication, subsequently set at 0.08 percent. (Alcohol.org)
- When a driver has a BAC of 0.08 or above, which represents grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, the risk of an accident increases dramatically. As a result, it is now illegal in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. (NHTSA.gov)
- On December 30, 2018, Utah set a lower legal limit of BAC of 0.05 or above. (NHTSA.gov)
- In 2018, with 10,511 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, 67% (7,051) occurred in accidents involving at least one driver with a BAC of 0.15 or higher. (NHTSA)
- Of the 10,511 people in drunk driving accidents in 2018, 61% of the victims were drivers with BACs of 0.08 or higher. The other deaths were 2,969 vehicle passengers (28%) and 1,178 nonoccupants (11%). (NHTSA)
- Even a relatively small amount of alcohol can impact driving capability. In 2019, 1,775 people were killed in accidents where a driver had a BAC of 0.01 to 0.07. (NHTSA)
- Charges for drunk driving come in all shapes and sizes and range from misdemeanors to felonies. Penalties can include fines, license suspension or revocation, and imprisonment. (NHTSA)
- Defending yourself against a drunk driving charge is expensive. A first-time offense may cost an accused driver as much as $10,000 or more in fines and legal fees. (NHTSA)
- Drunk driving cost the United States a total of $132 billion in 2011. (MADD.org)
- Although a BAC of 0.08 establishes impairment in every state, the vast majority of drivers in fatal accidents with alcohol involvement have much higher levels. (NHTSA)
- It seems that people who drink and drive tend to drink a lot. In 2018, 84% of the drivers with BACs of 0.01 or above who were involved in fatal crashes also had BAC levels at or 0.08 or above. Notably, 55% of these drivers also had BAC levels of 0.15 or above. (NHTSA)
- Approximately 9% of drunk drivers killed in fatal accidents have a prior conviction for driving under the influence. (Legaljobs)
Statistics by states
- In 2019, Texas had the highest number of deaths (1,332) resulting from drunk driving accidents. (Legaljobs)
- The number of deaths in Texas from drunk driving in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 was 1438, 1480, 1471, and 1332 respectively. (Legaljobs)
- In 2019, California was the second-worst state for drunk driving-related deaths, with 949. (Legaljobs)
- In 2017, California ranked highest among the states for drunk driving-related deaths. (Legaljobs)
- In 2019, Florida ranked third for the most drunk driving fatalities with 790. (Legaljobs)
- The District of Columbia had the lowest number of drunk driving fatalities in 2019, with only six deaths. (Legaljobs)
- The national average of the percentage of alcohol-related fatalities among all traffic fatalities in 2019 was 29%. (NHTSA)
- The percentage of drunk driving deaths among all traffic fatalities in certain states in 2019 ranged from a 43% high in Montana to 19% lows in Kentucky and West Virginia. (NHTSA)
- In 2021, the percentage of fatalities in accidents involving a driver with a BAC of 0.15 or higher ranged from a 31% high in Montana to a low of 12% in Kentucky and West Virginia. The national average was 19%. (NHTSA)
Costs and societal impact
- More than three out of 100,000 people in this country died in a drunk driving accident in 2018. (Responsibility.org)
- Drinking and driving costs more than $44 billion annually in deaths and damages alone. (NHTSA)
- The total volume of drunk driving fatalities has decreased by 44% since 1985. (NHTSA)
- Compared with all traffic fatalities, the percentage of drunk driving fatalities has decreased by almost 31% since 1985. (NHTSA)
Drunk driving and the seasons
Holidays bring family and friends together for celebration and fellowship. The holidays also give rise to two patterns that can increase danger and risk: increased driving travel and more drinking. Together, these factors, unfortunately, lead to an increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, particularly during our three biggest holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
Thanksgiving always encompasses the longest holiday period, 4.25 days from Thursday through Sunday. This holiday is also the “kick-off” of the holiday season, so drinking is a highlight and often encouraged. Drunk driving fatalities spike during this holiday, and the day before Thanksgiving is particularly bad.
- From 2015 to 2019, 135 drivers involved in fatal crashes on Thanksgiving Eve were alcohol-impaired.
- During the entire Thanksgiving holiday period, nearly 800 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes from 2015 to 2019.
- Nevertheless, Thanksgiving Day fatalities have decreased from 1995 (122) to 2019 (96).
The Christmas Day holiday period varies from 1.25 to 4.25 days, depending on the day of the week upon which Christmas Day falls. Christmas is perhaps the granddaddy of all holidays and certainly a time of both increased drinking and driving, often in dangerous winter conditions.
- In 2019, during the Christmas Holidays, 38% of traffic fatalities resulted from alcohol-impaired driving compared with 28% during non-holiday periods.
- There were 105 deaths from drunk driving accidents on Christmas in 1995, and that number peaked in 1999 with 140 such deaths.
- From 1999 to 2013, Christmas drunk driving fatalities were cut in half from 140 to 70 deaths.
- Unfortunately, since 2013, alcohol-related traffic fatalities on Christmas have trended upward, with 103 deaths recorded on Christmas in 2019.
New Year’s Eve always presents a worst-case scenario for danger on our roadways due to celebrations that traditionally promote alcohol consumption, late-night driving, and, often, poor weather. As a result, the very early hours of January 1st, New Years Day, are often the most deadly.
- January 1 is, on average, the deadliest day for alcohol-related accidents, according to IIHS.
- 51% of car-crash fatalities during the New Year’s holiday in 2014 resulted from drunk driving accidents. (Legaljobs)
- There were 428 alcohol-related traffic fatalities on New Year’s Day in 2019, the largest number since 458 in 2000. (NSC)
- From 1995 to 2019, New Years Day has always experienced more alcohol-related traffic fatalities than on subsequent days one and two weeks later. (NSC)
The facts and figures above about drunk driving in the United States paint a sobering picture. The silver lining, if there is one, is that the increased willingness to recognize the problem and the many sources telling the story has led to a sometimes sporadic but overall positive trend of declining alcohol-related traffic fatalities.