In 1984, the federal government mandated the drinking age to be 21. This was because they found younger drivers to be more at risk for drunk driving. Since then, we’ve seen a decrease in underage drunk driving by more than 80%. This contributes to the total decrease of more than 50% in total drunk driving incidents since the 80s. This is coupled with states’ different methods and legislation cracking down on impaired driving.
Many will refer to driving under the influence as an epidemic in the country. It’s estimated that around 30 people per day are killed as a result of intoxicated driving. Every 20 minutes, there’s a reported injury on account of a drunk driver.
Annually, drunk driving can kill tens of thousands of people. It truly makes you wonder how terrible of a problem it was 40 years ago. Since 66% of people are likely to become involved in such an accident in their lifetime, the government formally became involved and has enacted both federal and state legislation to reduce the number of DUI incidents.
At the same time, it’s become a universal understanding that driving while drunk is one of the worst things you or another person can be caught doing while on the road. The danger is immediate, the evidence is overwhelming, and the consequences are severe. Above all, drunk driving is a 100% avoidable offense. For every drunk driver, there are at least 100 other drivers who know not to get behind the wheel while intoxicated.
Firstly, what qualifies as drunk driving?
Driving under the influence, or a DUI (DWI in some states), is legally defined when a driver’s BAC (blood alcohol content) exceeds the federal limit of 0.08.
Some states, like California or Illinois, may employ a zero-tolerance policy where a BAC as low as 0.02 can be grounds for a DUI. Even the slightest sensation of being intoxicated can be written up (buzzed driving is drunk driving). Police may use a breathalyzer to measure a suspected driver’s BAC. Without one, there are some formulas for calculating a BAC of an individual that depends on sex and weight.
Alcohol consumed in grams/ body weight in grams * gender constant value (0.68 for males and 0.55 for females).
The exact amount of alcohol required for intoxication varies from person to person. It’s said that drivers ages 25-34 are the most likely to drive with a high BAC.
Let’s talk about the history and earlier numbers of drunk driving.
When looking at earlier and more prominent instances of drunk driving from 40 years ago, you’ll notice that it was more than 50% higher than today. People who drove during that time will tell you that drunk driving wasn’t as heavily regulated. The 80s, the time of the Regan-era war on drugs, saw a prioritization of lessening the number of intoxicated driver accidents on the roads.
With the introduction of the drinking age of 21 and several activist groups becoming vocal, drunk driving was soon highlighted in the media and public eyes as an epidemic. In recent years, ride-sharing services have become key in keeping intoxicated people out of the driver’s seat.
Here’s a couple of statistics that show a favorable shift in the battle against driving drunk:
- Significant decrease overall. Since the 80s, there’s been more than a 50% decrease in impaired driving and an 80% decrease in underage drunk drivers with the introduction of the drinking age.
- Mainstream attention and responsibility. Prominent activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driver (MADD) brought the message of preventing the deaths of loved ones caused by intoxicated drivers. Victims began telling their stories, and the general public listened.
- State laws. In addition to the federal limit, states may implement their own penalties and BAC limit for drunk drivers within their jurisdiction. There are states with zero tolerance towards drunk driving or underage drinking to better police it.
- Economic changes. Naturally, with inflation and more attention to it, the annual cost of drunk driving death and damages have become more pricey despite happening in less succession. 10 years ago, it cost more than $44 billion. Today, it exceeds $100 billion.
Now, let’s look at the demographic statistics of driving under the influence of alcohol
Today, most people recognize the severity and legality of driving drunk as it’s constantly stressed. In addition to the injuries, a death caused by intoxicated driving is reported every 50 or so minutes. Those incidents make up for 30% of traffic-related deaths. Even though the message is out in the open, there’s still a considerable number of heavy drinkers still getting behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.
Here are some modern statistics that illustrate what drunk driving is like in the present:
- Age demographic. Surveys and research shows that drivers ages 25-34 are most likely to drive with a high BAC. This would be generation Y or millennials. At the same time, men are more likely to drive under the influence. Some years have shown drivers ages 21 to 24-year-olds to have the most drunk driving incidents for that time.
- Vehicles involved. 43% of the time, passenger cars like a Sedan account for more drunk driving incidents than an SUV, van, or pick-up truck. Motorcycles are another vehicle less involved in DUI cases.
- Income role. A study by the World Health Organization shows that drivers from low and middle-income groups or countries are almost 70% likely to be involved in an impaired driving accident.
- Unaccounted cases. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that for every reported drinking and driving offense, there are several other (up to 2,000) unaccounted for and unreported DUIs.
What are some of the legal consequences for impaired driving?
A DUI or DWI traffic violation is a criminal offense in all states, and they handle it as such. There’s a couple of penalties associated with a DUI, including steep fines, time in jail or prison, and license suspension that could be permanent. There are close public opinions on whether a license suspension should be temporary for first-time offenders than permanent for repeat DUI offenders. Legal consequences also depend on the state in which the violation occurred.
Here’s how states and legislation handle drunk driving:
- BAC limits. Some states with zero-tolerance policies may have set their own BAC limits below or slightly above the federal limit. Some of those states set it as low as 0.02. For underage drivers, if the slightest amount of alcohol is found in their system, then it’s a legal DUI.
- Driving record marking. A DUI or DWI violation can stay on your personal driving record for 3 to 5 years. In California, it may stay on for up to 10 years. In some cases, a DUI conviction can remain on your record indefinitely in a state like Illinois.
- Incarceration. This may not be the case for first-time offenders since a first-time DUI can sometimes be a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony. There are some states like New Jersey where a first-time DUI can warrant a month in jail. Longer sentences are typically given to multiple offenders.
- Fines. Fines issued for drunk driving are rarely cheap. They could range anywhere from $500 to $2,500 depending on the offense number or severity. Whatever can increase jail time can similarly increase fines.
- License suspension. Your driver’s license and privileges can be revoked temporarily or permanently depending on your DUI violation. To get it back, you may be required to take a safe driving, AA course, or community service.
What can drinking and driving do to my insurance coverage and rates?
While DUIs require and can cost a lot from the legal end, they can also cause some damage on the insurance end. Not just your premiums, but your risk and reputation with your insurance company. On average, becoming involved in a drinking and driving accident can raise your rates by 70% or more. That’s adding well over $1000 for every month in a year for your insurance premium. If it’s a second DUI offense, then your insurer may cancel your policy and drop you as a holder.
If your license was revoked, then your insurance company plays a significant role in getting it back. You may need an SR-22 filing to show that you meet the minimum requirements for car insurance before you drive. The SR-22 is required to have a license reinstated or for finding a new insurance company to cover high-risk drivers. Some drunk drivers have even been found to be operating their cars without a license-around 50 to 75% of the time.
Insurance companies have their own different ways of processing a DUI- they judge the time and severity of the accident. Since the DUI will remain on your driving record for a certain number of years, you’ll be paying those increased premiums for that many years. Some people file an SR-22, while others may find a new high-risk insurance company altogether.
Here are some more recent statistics of drunk drivers.
During these last few years, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, drunk driving has declined. People were driving significantly less until September 2020, which saw a spike. This was when some people were starting to get back on the road.
From 2019 to the present, here are some more statistics behind the fatalities of drunk driving:
- Drunk driving accidents that result in death caused by male drivers make up about 80% of drunk driving fatalities. Typically, these drivers are age 23-54.
- About 20% of drivers age 35 to 50 testify that they have been close to or know someone who was the victim of a drunk driving fatality.
- In a 2019 survey, it was found that 45% of female respondents will call a friend or rideshare to head home after drinking alcohol, while 29.8% of male respondents would do the same thing.
- California is the state that has logged the most driving fatalities on account of drunk driving, with 1,120 in 2017 with Florida right behind in second. States with fewer drunk driving accidents include Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont (states with less dense populations and fewer metropolitan areas).
- 9% of drunk drivers killed in an accident have at least one prior conviction of the same thing. Repeat drunk drivers are the most likely to become involved in a traffic death.
- As previously mentioned, driving under the influence continues to cost the United States billions of dollars annually. Today, it’s about $132 billion. That’s a little more than $500 per American every year.
- Adult drivers collectively drive an estimate of 120 million times a year after consuming the legal limit of alcohol. That’s about 300,000 times in a single day.
- For every 3 drunk drivers arrested and booked, there’s 1 repeat offender among them.
It seems like a good number of DUIs come from underage drinkers. What are the numbers on that?
One of the main reasons Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded was to protect their kids.
The age demographic of 18 to 24 (college students) makes up for a considerable percentage of impaired driving cases. MADD presents such evidence as:
- Annually, 2,000 drivers age 18 to 24 die from impaired driving accidents because of alcohol consumption.
- 19% of drunk driving accidents involve younger drivers.
- 18% of the drivers under 21 had admitted to driving after they had a couple of drinks.
- Nine years ago, 42% of fatalities in impaired driving accidents were reported to be young people age 16 to 24. At the same time, 120,000 emergency rooms were occupied with the same age group suffering from injuries related to a DUI.
- Four years later, the 42% of young driver fatalities remained constant. However, the highest percentage of impaired drivers was in the age group of 21 to 24.
Let’s compare drunk driving fatalities to gun violence fatalities to put it in perspective.
Gun violence is as much an epidemic as impaired driving, if not more. Much like being impaired behind the wheel, gun violence also kills tens of thousands of people each year-approximately 30,000 fatalities. And, for every one of those deaths, two people are wounded or injured by firearm violence.
According to the CDC, about 100,000 people are involved in gun-related incidents in a year. That’s significantly less than the 4.5 million traffic-related injuries that same year.
What are ways to prevent drunk driving?
Getting behind the wheel intoxicated is always avoidable. Nowadays, it’s become almost common knowledge not to drive drunk. Since the drinking age of 21 was introduced in 1984, it’s estimated that over 30,000 lives have been saved. It’s safe to say that without it, we would see twice the amount of drunk driving incidents. When it comes to new drivers, they may be educated on the dangers of driving under the influence years in advance before they become licensed.
To save lives by staying off the road when drinking, here’s what you can do:
- Rideshare. Rideshares like Lyft and Uber have become pivotal in keeping intoxicated would-be drivers off the road. Nowadays, sober drivers are a couple of touchscreen taps away.
- Learn at a young age. The consequences and why drunk driving isn’t condoned or safe should always be taught years before becoming a licensed driver or turning the legal drinking age.
- Plan with public transportation. When the weekend comes around, people will often plan their excursions if they won’t be behind the wheel since they’ll be drinking. It’s best to know what methods of public transportation would get you to where you need to be safe.
- Don’t get behind the wheel if drunk. The moment of truth is standing before your car, keys in hand, and feeling buzzed. Even if it’s a little, simply don’t get behind the wheel. It’s never worth it or safe. This is the main prevention of drunk driving-simply don’t do it. It’s a decision that’s entirely in your power.
When it comes to impaired driving, always remember that:
Thousands of people lose their lives due to driving under the influence. With all the social, legal, financial, and insurance impacts of such an accident-it’s never a victimless crime. Fortunately, it has been on a mainstream decline in the last 40 years. But, the struggle to reduce drunk driving deaths is ongoing. If you ever feel inconvenienced when unable to drive after drinking, remember that not getting in the car can save lives.