Hollay Ghadery Last Updated On: May 16, 2024

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Drunk Driving Statistics Americans Need to Know

Driving while intoxicated is a big problem in the U.S. Not convinced? Have a look at these sobering statistics:

  • 229 children (0-14) die annually as a result of drunk driving accidents (CDC)
  • ⅓ of car accidents are due to drunk drivers (NHTSA)
  • In 2020, alcohol-impaired drivers caused $123.3 billion in damages (CDC)
  • In 2017 of the fatal car wrecks at night, 32% were because of a drunk driver (NHTSA)
  • Fatal car accidents as a result of drinking double on weekends (NHTSA)
  • The three states with the highest number of alcohol-related fatalities are Texas, California and Florida (NHTSA)
  • College-aged drivers are involved in 19% of drunk driving accidents (MADD)
  • The raising of the minimum drinking age in 1984 may have saved close to 32,000 lives (NHTSA)

Driving while impaired can seem innocent, but it can have devastating effects on others. And if these statistics are alarming to you, you’re not alone: in 2021, 65% of U.S. drivers said they were “very or extremely concerned” about drunk driving.

Driving while impaired is no laughing matter, but it happens more frequently than you might realize. You don’t want to become a statistic by getting caught operating a vehicle while impaired. Not only will it change your insurance rates (premiums and ratings), but it could cost you a great deal more. 

Here’s a sobering thought: according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 32 Americans die every day due to drunk driving accidents—that’s one person every 45 minutes!

So, even if you’ve had a rough day and there’s a cold one calling to you, drink it at home, or if you do go out, call a cab and leave your wheels behind.

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Alcohol and Driving: Why It’s a Deadly Cocktail

We all know alcohol impairs your ability to operate a car. The question is, why does it? Here’s a snapshot as to why alcohol impairs your driving:
  • Booze reduces brain function and reasoning, impairs cognition, and affects muscle coordination.
  • Alcohol absorbs into the bloodstream and is measured in Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC). In 50 states, driving with a BAC of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) is illegal, but in Utah, the legal limit drops to 0.05 grams.
  • Even a small (0.01-0.7 grams) BAC can lead to impairment.
To illustrate how deadly driving is while impaired, here’s a chart outlining how BAC influences your ability to operate a vehicle.
0.02 Rise in body temperature, changes in mood, relaxation, and change in judgment Reduced ability to visually track objects, and no ability to multitask
0.05 Less inhibition, feeling good, not as alert, small-muscle group loss of control, exaggerated behavior, and impaired judgment Poor coordination, trouble steering, inability to track moving objects, and difficulty during emergency driving situations
0.08 Poor muscle coordination and impairment to judgment, reasoning, self-control, and memory Short-term memory loss and impairment to concentration, speed control, processing info (e.g., identifying a lane change), and perception
0.10 Slurred speech and poor thinking, slower reaction time, and poor coordination Inability to stay in the lane or adequately brake
0.15 Vomiting, terrible muscle control, and no balance Poor information processing (eyes and ears) and inability to safely operate a car or pay attention to the road

Key insights + Statistics

How many people die a year from drunk driving? According to the CDC, 11,654 Americans died because of a drunk driver in 2020. And as if this number isn’t bad enough, the number of deaths is up 14.3% from the previous year. The CDC suggests that in 2020, of those fatalities:

  • 62% of those deaths were the impaired driver
  • 38% were drunk drivers’ passenger

The statistics are alarming, and they should be. Driving while impaired doesn’t just affect the driver, but it affects their passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians.

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Drunk Driving Statistics by Age

Although driving while drunk is a problem facing all Americans, a few groups are topping the stats. The highest risk groups, according to a 2020 NHTSA bulletin, are:
  • 29% of drunk driving fatalities are in 15-20-year-olds, with a BAC of over 0.01 g/dL.
  • Most alcohol-impaired drivers occur in 21 to 24-year-olds and 25 to 34-year-olds.
  • Men are 4x more likely to drive while drunk.
Everyone needs to be vigilant about their own behaviors, but it helps to know which groups are most at risk to drive while impaired. 

How DUIs Affect Your Insurance Rates

If you get pulled over and charged with a DUI (driving under the influence), you better believe your insurance rates are about to take a steep climb. Your rates—depending on the offense and the state you live in—dictate how much your insurance premiums will rise, which can be anywhere from 7% to 289% increase.  

Oh, and you can wave your safe driver discounts goodbye for the foreseeable future if you’re charged with a DUI. 

Key Takeaways for Drunk Driving Prevention

No one can fault you for wanting to partake in a drink. But you don’t have to become a statistic if you simply take the time to plan your night ahead. There are so many options to get to and from your location safely these days, from rideshare services like Uber and Lyft, to taxis, to designated driving services that also bring your vehicle home with you, and more. 

The good news is that drunk driving is trending in the right direction, and has decreased 44% since 1985. But still, driving while impaired is never worth it, and it can wreak havoc on your life and on those around you. Not to mention, your car insurance premiums will take a long time to recover if you’re caught and there are heavy legal penalties involved with impaired driving.

Need help finding affordable insurance, whether or not you have an impaired driving infraction on your record? ConsumerCoverage can help. Get access to free quotes fast, so you can start saving on car insurance today. 

Hollay Ghadery Hollay Ghadery is a writer and editor who is passionate about financial literacy as a means to personal fulfillment. Hollay has over 18 years of experience creating content about a range of topics related to personal finance, including insurance, investing, banking, and credit cards. When Hollay isn't writing, she's spending time with her four children, two dogs, and three goats.

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