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Drunk driving facts and statistics

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Drunk driving accidents kill thousands of people every year. It’s one of the biggest risks that drivers face when they get behind the wheel. Drunk driving fatalities are decreasing, but the data continues to be alarming. Keep reading for a closer look at key drinking and driving statistics by age group, gender and year, as well as how a DUI offense can impact your car insurance rate.    

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Drunk driving refers to the act of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and having a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal limit. Drivers who are caught driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol are charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI).

Nationwide, the legal blood alcohol limit is 0.08%. If a driver’s BAC is over 0.08%, they will get charged with a DUI/DWI. Most states have a zero tolerance policy for minors, which makes it illegal for any driver under 21 to drink and drive, regardless of their BAC. Each state takes a slightly different approach when it comes to charging drivers with DUI and determining their consequences.

Key drunk driving statistics

Drunk driving is illegal in every state. Although drunk driving fatalities in the United States have been reduced by nearly 50% since the 1980s, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol remains a serious concern. Here are some of the staggering DUI statistics:

Teen drunk driving statistics

The legal drinking age in the United States is 21, but some teenagers drink underage. In almost every state, it’s illegal for teenagers to drive after consuming any amount of alcohol, even if their BAC is under the legal limit. Here are some of the teen drunk driving statistics:

  • One in 10 teengers in high school drinks and drives.
  • Teen drivers are 3 times more likely than older drivers to be in a fatal crash.
  • Underaged drivers are 17 times more likely to die in a crash while impaired than when they have not been drinking.
  • In 2010, 1 in 5 teen drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their system with a BAC higher than the legal limit.

Gender differences in drunk driving 

Surprisingly, gender plays a major role in impaired driving. Here is some data around drunk driving among males and females

  • Men are more likely than women to be involved in fatal drunk driving crashes.
  • In 2010, 77.6% of all DUI arrests in the United States were male.
  • In 2018, 21% of men involved in car accidents were found to be impaired.
  • In 2018, 14% of women involved in car accidents were found to be impaired.

Drunk driving statistics by region

Impaired driving is problematic across the country. However, drunk driving is more prevalent in certain regions and states. Here is some of the data that shows where drunk driving is most common in the United States: 

Drunk driving statistics by year

Over the last 40 years, alcohol-impaired crash fatalities have been reduced by nearly 50%, due in part to drunk driving awareness and stricter laws. However, the rates vary year-to-year. Other data highlighting drunk driving figures by year include:

  • In 2011, 10,908 traffic fatalities were linked to alcohol consumption, as opposed to 18,125 in 1985.
  • Drunk driving fatalities between 2017 – 2018 decreased by 2.4%.
  • In 2018, 1,038 children died in alcohol-related accidents, which was a 10% decline from the year before.
  • Motorcycle fatalities saw a 5% decrease between 2017 – 2018.

DUI/DWI crashes and fatalities statistics

Alcohol-impaired crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year. In 2016, 28% of all traffic accidents involved drugs or alcohol. That same year, more than one million drivers were arrested for driving drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs. Data also shows that driving under the influence of marijuana is a growing issue.

Getting convicted of a DUI/DWI comes with heavy consequences. You’ll pay a hefty fine, your car will likely be impounded, you could lose your license and you could also face jail time. On top of that, having a DUI/DWI on your record will impact your car insurance rate, even if you weren’t involved in an accident. 

Preventing drunk driving

Preventing drunk driving is entirely possible. It starts with personal responsibility—drivers cannot allow themselves or other people to get behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking or using drugs. One of the easiest ways to prevent drunk driving is to plan ahead. 

If you intend to go out and drink, call an Uber or have a friend drive you home. If you’re out with friends, designate a sober driver in your group who won’t be drinking. If you’re hosting a party where alcohol is being served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver. And no matter what, always wear your seatbelt—it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.

How does drunk driving impact car insurance rates?

Having a DUI on your record will cause your car insurance premium to increase significantly in most cases. Drivers with a DUI or DWI are viewed as higher risk, which means there’s a greater likelihood that you would drive impaired again. For repeat offenders, it’s possible that your insurance company could restrict certain coverages, or cancel your coverage altogether. 

If your insurance company cancels your policy and you need to get non-standard insurance, be prepared to pay a high premium. Additionally, most states require drivers who are charged with a DUI to get an SR-22 form, which proves that you have the required level of coverage to meet the state’s minimum car insurance requirements. Having an SR-22 requirement may raise your car insurance rate for the time it stays on your record, which is typically at least five years. 

The takeaway

  • Drunk driving is a significant issue in the United States, but fatalities are dropping.
  • Drunk driving rates vary by age group, location and gender.
  • Getting charged with a DUI/DWI will cause your car insurance rate to increase for at least five years.

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol can be deadly, and the consequences are severe. Not only could you lose your license and face jail time, but you’ll have to pay expensive fines, lawyer fees and higher insurance rates. Fortunately, drunk driving is entirely preventable. If you are going to drink, make sure to designate a sober driver and make sure that everyone gets home safely.

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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