How Many People Die From Drunk Driving a Year? – 70+ Shocking Facts And Statistics To Sober You Up (2021-2022)

Two things we love in the United States: drinking, and driving. Ever since the Prohibition, alcohol has played a key role in the social fabric of American life, a lubricant of conversation and leisure.

Whilst we’re not quite on a level with the Eastern Europeans, the average American over the age of 15 consumes 9.87 litres of pure alcohol a year.

If this conjures up images of teens downing ethanol by the gallon, don’t worry – it’s just a reference point for the range of beverages consumed across the country. 9.87 liters of pure alcohol equates to around 80 bottles of wine. Whatever your tipple, it’s safe to assume you drink enough to get tipsy from time to time.

And when it comes to driving, our cross country highways are like no other. America’s road infrastructure is second to none, and with 286.9 million registered cars – one for every two people – it’s safe to say we all have access to a vehicle.

The pleasure of cruising down the open road, like the pleasure of a cold beer at the end of a hard day, is hard to beat. But what happens when these two pleasures cross paths?

Drunk driving accounts for over 10,000 deaths a year – a shocking statistic, before you start exploring the ripple effect of lives ruined, lost licenses and the economic cost of these incidents.

The loss of concentration, slowed reaction times and questionable judgement that come with alcohol consumption have a grave impact on one’s driving ability. Ever gone out on the town without a plan B for getting home?

Here are the key insights from our drunk driving research.

Key Insights:

  • 25.8% of adults reported binge drinking in the last month.
  • Over 30% of Americans admitted to driving after drinking in the last month.
  • 80% of drunk driving incidents involve men behind the wheel, and 20% of drunk trips is undertaken by someone aged between 26 and 29.
  • Every day, 29 people die in car crashes caused by drunk driving. That’s one in three deaths on the road.
  • One in three high school students will be driven by a drunk driver.

For a fast track to drunk driving statistics, see below.

Info at a Glance: Tables

These tables give you an instant impression of the facts around drunk driving, from trends in deaths to state-by-state fluctuations.

Drunk Driving Deaths Statistics Per Year 2020-2021

Whilst the number of drunk driving deaths have been dropping steadily since the early 1980s, the fatalities are still eye watering. Around one in three traffic related fatalities are caused by drunk driving – and every single one of them is a totally avoidable death.

Whilst the trends are a source of hope, these statistics tell a terrible story of lives ruined.

YearTotal traffic fatalitiesAlcohol-related traffic fatalities% of fatalities from alcohol
201936,09610,14228%
201836,56010,51129%
201737,47310,90829%
201637,80610,96729%

Source: NHTSA

Drunk Driving Deaths Statistics by US State 2021-2022

Drunk driving deaths aren’t spread evenly across America. A variety of factors, from population density to culture around alcohol contribute to drunk driving deaths.

In the decade up to 2018, 9,288 died as a result of drunk driving in California (with a population of almost 40 million) whilst 7,573 people died in Florida – a state half as populated. That makes Floridians around 50% more likely to die in a drunk driving incident.

Vermont posted the fewest deaths between 2009 and 2018 at just 186 and Texas had the most with a shocking 13,592 deaths in ten years.

StateTotal fatalitiesTotal Alcohol-related fatalities% of all fatalities from alcohol
Alabama95329931%
Alaska803645%
Arizona1,01035535%
Arkansas51617334%
California3,5631,24135%
Colorado63222135%
Connecticut29413245%
Delaware1113532%
District of Columbia311032%
Florida3,13395831%
Georgia1,50445030%
Hawaii1174639%
Idaho2316629%
Illinois1,03137837%
Indiana85827132%
Iowa31810031%
Kansas4049824%
Kentucky72417224%
Louisiana76825233%
Maine1374936%
Maryland50115531%
Massachusetts36014641%
Michigan97432533%
Minnesota38113034%
Mississippi66419830%
Missouri92128231%
Montana1828748%
Nebraska2307834%
Nevada33011033%
New Hampshire1475537%
New Jersey56416428%
New Mexico39114036%
New York94336338%
North Carolina1,43748534%
North Dakota1053331%
Ohio1,06834432%
Oklahoma66517827%
Oregon50618537%
Pennsylvania1,19038933%
Rhode Island592542%
South Carolina1,03735532%
South Dakota1305038%
Tennessee1,04128928%
Texas3,6421,67746%
Utah2607027%
Vermont682334%
Virginia82028635%
Washington54619536%
West Virginia2947124%
Wisconsin58823540%
Wyoming1113935%

Source: NHTSA

Age of Drivers involved in Fatal Deaths 2020-2021

Young drivers are particularly at risk of drunk driving – both as a driver and as a passenger. It’s a leading cause of death amongst teens, and young adults are disproportionately killed in incidents.

The significant jump in proportion of fatalities between those under 21 and those aged 21-24 can be put down to minimum age legislation. Preventing under 21s from consuming alcohol evidently saves a lot of lives.

Age bracket% of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes
16 – 2015%
21 – 2427%
25 – 3425%
35 – 4421%
45 – 5419%
55 – 6415%
65 – 7410%
75+7%

Source: NHTSA

Let’s take the plunge into the shocking world of drunk driving facts and statistics. Once we reach our destination, you’ll be sure to not risk a tipsy trip home ever again.

What is Drunk Driving?

Whilst drunk driving might seem like a self explanatory term, there is in fact a great deal of disagreement. After all, when exactly are you too drunk to drive – at what point does having a drink and driving home turn into drunk driving?

And whilst every state has placed a legal limit on blood alcohol content, this will come with very different states of inebriation for different people.

In legal terms, drunk driving is defined as breaking the limit of 0.08% for your blood alcohol content (unless you’re in Utah, where the limit is 0.05%). You might be charged with a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or a DUI (driving under the influence).

Most of the time, these charges are for people found to be driving a motorized vehicle – motorbikes and scooters are not exempt. But sometimes, they can even apply to cyclists.

Beyond the legal definition, driving after drinking almost any number of drinks can entail a risk of drunk driving. Even a small amount of alcohol will impair your judgment and slow your reaction times. If in doubt, don’t drive.

Drunk Driving Facts And Statistics 2020-2021

Knowledge is power and education is prevention – let’s drink deep from the font of wisdom. Here are all the drunk driving facts and statistics you need to know.

How Many People Die From Drunk Driving?

Around 10,000 people die every year from drunk driving – that equals 29 people every day, or over one an hour. Drunk driving is a factor in one in three deaths on American roads.

So, the drunk driving might seem harmless at 2 am – but it directly leads to the deaths of thousands of Americans every year. The true cost of drunk driving is far greater than a taxi home so call a cab.

The True Cost of Drunk Driving
  1. Every day, 29 people die in car crashes caused by drunk driving.
  2. One in three road deaths in the United States is related to drunk driving.
  3. In 2019, 10,142 people died as a result of drunk driving. And that was a good year.
  4. 2019 posted the lowest number of deaths from drunk driving in any year since 1985 when records began – but 10,000 people still needlessly died.
  5. Drunk driving deaths are actually falling – in 2017, 10,874 people died in crashes involving an impaired driver.
  6. Drunk driving fatalities have halved since 1982
  7. Texas tops the table of drink driving deaths. 13,592 people died in Texas between 2009 and 2018.
  8. There are over 700 crashes caused by drunk driving every day – that’s one every two minutes. Watch the clock.
  9. One in ten drunk drivers killed in an accident had a prior conviction for a DUI – repeat offenders.
  10. Drunk driving costs the United States around $132 billion every year.
  11. This is due to a range of costs, from EMTs attending the scene of a crash to guardrails and road signs.
  12. That equates to $400 per person.
  13. And a DUI will increase your insurance rates by an average of 67%.
  14. The average annual rate for a driver with one DUI is $2,596.
  15. And by driving drunk you’ll usually void your insurance, leaving you personally liable for any damage caused.
  16. Repeat drunk driving offenders often go to jail – and even first-time offenders can be landed with legal fees of over $10,000.

How Many People Drink Alcohol In The US?

More than 85% of Americans have drunk alcohol once in their life, 75% have drunk in the last year and 50% have drunk alcohol in the last month. One-quarter of American admit to binge drinking in the last month – and the same percentage admit to having driven while blackout drunk at least once in their lives.

Obviously, alcohol plays an important role in every culture around the world and for most people, it’s an integral part of a weekend or even just winding down after work. But how much do you really know about this pervasive drink?

Alcohol in the United States (Infographics)
  1. It takes around one hour for your body to process a unit of alcohol.
  2. A normal strength pint of beer has about 2.5 units and a bottle of wine contains 10.
  3. This means there’s often alcohol in your system when you might not expect it. If you drink two bottles of wine between 8 pm and midnight, the alcohol won’t leave your system until 4 pm the following day!
  4. Recent surveys have found that three-quarters of American adults have drunk in the last year, and over half have drunk in the last month.
  5. And 85.6% of adults have drunk alcohol at least once in their life.
  6. Whilst that may seem low, those that do drink alcohol drink a lot. 25.8% of adults reported binge drinking in the last month.
  7. That means that a full half of those who drank in the last month were binging on alcohol.
  8. Over 30% of Americans admitted to driving after drinking in the last month.
  9. And 53.5% of Americans say they feel capable of driving after drinking.
  10. 92% of people who have driven whilst drunk recently did so with passengers: putting others at risk as well as themselves.
  11. Half of Americans have been the passenger of a drunk driver. Would you feel safe in a drunk driver’s hands?
  12. 38% of people feel comfortable driving after drinking beer, whilst only 16% feel happy to drive after consuming wine.
  13. Almost half of people surveyed said they felt safe to drive after 3-4 drinks or more.
  14. Shockingly, one in four American men and one in eight American women have driven whilst blackout drunk.
  15. 80% of drunk driving incidents involve men behind the wheel. Don’t be a statistic, guys.
  16. And one in five drunk drives is committed by people aged between 26 – 29. Culprits.

How Much Can You Drink And Drive?

The legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) in the United States is 0.08%. It’s impossible to know how alcohol will affect you, so you can’t tell your BAC from your number of drinks – two drinks will impair your ability to drive and three to four will put you over the limit.

45% of Americans are comfortable driving after 3-4 drinks – but are they safe, and are they legal? Let’s take a look at the letter of the law.

  1. 0.08% BAC (blood alcohol content) is the legal limit for driving in every state in the United States except Utah, where it’s 0.05%.
  2. However, for drivers under the age of 21, the legal limit is lower and varies between 0.00% and 002%.
  3. Whilst under 21s can’t legally drink in any state, the consequences of driving over the limit can be severe for this demographic.
  4. There’s no way to know what your blood alcohol content will be after a number of drinks: you can only guess.
  5. Anything from smoking cigarettes to skipping dinner can affect your BAC.
  6. And drinking coffee, doing star jumps, or taking a cold shower will not decrease your BAC. There are no hacks around sobering up to drive home.
  7. As a general rule, three to four bottles of beer will put you over the limit.
  8. Police only catch an estimated 1% of drunk driving offenses.
  9. And the average driver will have driven under the influence over 80 times before being arrested.

How Does Drinking Impact Your Driving?

Drinking affects your ability to concentrate, it slows your reaction times and damages your focus. With a blood alcohol content of 0.08%, your reaction time is slowed by 1/10th of a second – that equates to 12 feet of stopping distance on the freeway.

Over half of Americans (53.5%) believe themselves to be capable of driving after they’ve had a drink. What do you think? Let’s take a look at the facts of alcohol’s impact on your driving.

Impact of your drinking on driving
  1. The average adult will be impaired after 2-3 drinks, and a fourth will push them beyond the legal limit.
  2. Your reaction time is slowed by up to a tenth of a second with 0.08 BAC.
  3. At freeway speeds, that reduces your stopping distance by around 12 feet. Even at 35 miles an hour, your stopping distance is decreased by six feet.
  4. Reduced coordination – drunk people are classically unable to walk in a straight line. That affects your ability to hold the steering wheel straight.
  5. Reduced concentration! Driving requires the ability to concentrate on the road, road signs, and objective hazards – but drinking prevents your ability to take it all in.
  6. Blurred vision. Ever been so drunk you can’t see straight? Alcohol acts as a depressant and causes the muscles controlling your eyes to slow, resulting in blurred or double vision.
  7. Poor judgment. Good driving depends on decision-making, and alcohol impairs your judgment. That’s why drunk driving often seems like a good idea after a few drinks!
  8. Becoming drunk even affects your ability to assess how drunk you are – it’s a vicious cycle that leads to dangerous driving.

How Common Is Drunk Driving Among Teenagers?

One in three high school students has been the passenger of a drunk driver. There are 50 car accidents involving teens and alcohol every day – and while not all are fatal, car accidents remain the leading cause of death for those aged 15-20.

Whilst men in their mid to late 20s are the main culprits for drunk driving, teens are especially at risk when it comes to fatal crashes. Alcohol consumption amongst our teens remains high – with the knock-on danger of an impaired drive home.

  1. The majority of American teens – three out of every four – will try alcohol during high school.
  2. And a quarter of American teens have drunk alcohol in the last 30 days.
  3. 17% of underage in the United States have binged on alcohol in the last month – that means that two-thirds of those who drink do so to excess, putting them at grave risk of drunk driving.
  4. There are almost 50 auto accidents each day involving teens and alcohol – one every 30 minutes.
  5. One-third of high school students have been the passenger of a drunk driver.
  6. Car accidents are the main cause of death for those aged 15-20.

How Common Is Drug-Impaired Driving?

One in six drivers had drugs in their system, according to a recent NHTSA survey – but the majority of those were using prescription or over-the-counter drugs. 11% of drivers found with drugs in their system were using illegal drugs, but both legal and illegal drugs can impair your driving.

When it comes to the road, alcohol isn’t the only danger. Driving under the influence of drugs – either prohibited or proscribed – can also impair your judgment, reaction times and your concentration.

Drugged Driving
  1. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) found that more than one in six weekend drivers tested positive for drugs.
  2. The majority of these were prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  3. As with alcohol, men are more likely to drive under the influence of drugs than women.
  4. And youths aged 18-25 are more likely to drive on drugs than any other age group.
  5. Teens are also at risk: a 2011 survey revealed 12% of high-schoolers had driven whilst under the influence of cannabis.
  6. Statistics show that in 2009 almost one in five fatally killed drivers tested positive for drugs in their system.
  7. Drowsiness is one of the main side effects of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. This can make driving perilously unsafe.

There are four countries with no limit on alcohol consumption for non-professional drivers: Bolivia in South America and Togo, Niger, and the Gambia in Africa. In all these countries, drinking and driving is legal unless you’re driving for work.

Cultural approaches to alcohol differ radically around the world – and so do some countries’ approaches to treating drunk driving. Here are some surprising facts from around the world, from the places where you really don’t want to get caught over the limit to the places where you can’t be!

  1. In Poland, a zero-tolerance approach means you’ll lose your license for three years minimum on a first offense.
  2. In South Africa, a 10-year jail sentence can accompany the first conviction for drunk driving.
  3. And in Australia, those convicted of a DUI have their name published in the newspaper. Public shaming as punishment.
  4. In the United Arab Emirates, drunk driving can be punished by 80 lashes. Ouch.
  5. In Uruguay and Paraguay, the BAC limit for drunk driving is 0%. Put down the chocolate liqueurs!
  6. On the other hand, in Bolivia, there’s no limit for non-professional drivers.
  7. And in the African nations of Togo, Niger, and the Gambia there’s no limit for consuming alcohol and driving.

Drunk Driving

Frequently Asked Questions About Drunk Driving

Any questions? Here’s the drunk driving FAQ to clear up any confusion!

How many people die each year as a result of drunk driving?

In 2019, 10,142 died due to drunk driving – the lowest total since the early 1980s. Drunk driving deaths have more than halved since 1980, indicating that strong campaigns of awareness around the danger are taking effect.

Nevertheless, 10,000 avoidable deaths a year is still too many. On average, someone dies every 50 minutes due to drunk driving in America.

Who’s most at risk of drunk driving?

Men are responsible for four out of five drunk driving incidents and one-quarter of men admit to having driven blackout drunk, whilst people in their late 20s account for 20% of drunk driving accidents, making them disproportionately responsible.

Whilst men in their 20s are most at risk of drunk driving, teens are also in particular danger. Car accidents are the main cause of death in the 15-20 age group, and teens are involved in drunk driving incidents across the country every 30 minutes on average.

How much can you drink before it’s not okay to drive?

In most states, the legal limit for blood alcohol content is 0.08% – but in Utah, it’s 0.05%, and for those under the age of 21 it varies between 0 and 0.02%. Beyond these limits, you can be charged with the crime of Driving While Impaired (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DWI).

However, without a breathalyzer, there’s no good way to assess your blood alcohol content. The number of drinks you can consume will vary greatly depending on your gender, age, and body type as well as factors such as what you’ve eaten that day.

For the average person, around three beers will tip them over the limit into illegal territory – but any number of alcoholic beverages can impair your ability to drive. The safest choice is not to drink at all.

Wrapping Up

Drunk driving might seem like the easy option, but when you take a look at these sobering statistics, it’s clear it doesn’t come cheap.

From the shocking fatalities to your insurance premium, drunk driving isn’t the answer after a night out.

Whilst drunk driving deaths are falling, there’s always more we can do. Ride-sharing apps make it easier than ever to find a way home.

There are many solutions to drunk driving, but they all start with you. Plan your night out in advance, and if you think there’s a risk of drunk driving then leave the car at home. Don’t pressure your friends to drink if they don’t want to – and celebrate the designated driver.

So how about one for the road? Thanks, but no thanks.


Sources:

  • Drunk Driving Law by Country. Retrieved from Wikipedia
  • Drunk Driving Statistics 2022. Retrieved from Forbes
  • 2022 Drunk Driving Statistics. Retrieved from BankRate
  • 30 Interesting Alcohol Facts. Retrieved from Healthline
  • Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report Tables. Retrieved from NHTSA
  • Drunk Driving Statistics [2022]. Retrieved from BestOnlineTraffiSchool

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Robert Muñoz

I’m Robert, a US-based auto electrician, auto mechanic, trained engineer and fanatic about all things motor vehicle. After studying engineering in college I returned to my original passion - car mechanics - and I ran a garage for a number of years serving my local community. Through my garage, I got involved in numerous road safety campaigns in my local area until eventually, I decided to share what I've learned with the world. Know more about me... You can follow me on LinkedIn.

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