Drinking and driving is a major problem in the United States. To better understand the short- and long-term ramifications of drinking and driving, let’s first consider the following impaired driving statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- On average, 29 people die every day due to motor vehicle crashes that involve an impaired driver; this equates to one death approximately every 50 minutes.
- Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes cause more than $44 billion in damages annually.
- Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes accounted for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2016.
- More than 1 million drivers were arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or narcotics in the United States in 2016.
- In 2016, 17% of all traffic deaths among kids age 0 to 14 in the United States involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
The risks associated with drinking and driving are significant. Fortunately, with the ability to identify those most at risk of drinking and driving, a person can help stop motor vehicle accidents, injuries, and fatalities associated with intoxicated driving.
Who Is Most at Risk of Drinking and Driving?
CDC points out the risk of being involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash is greater for young people than older people, regardless of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level. However, CDC also notes that the higher a person’s BAC level, the more susceptible he or she may be to a fatal motor vehicle crash.
Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher who were involved in fatal crashes in 2016, 27% were between the ages of 25 and 34, CDC reports. Meanwhile, 26% of these drivers were between the ages of 21 and 24, and 22% were between the ages of 35 and 44.
Intoxicated motorcyclists are also susceptible to fatal crashes. In 2016, 25% of motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes had a BAC level of 0.08% or greater, according to CDC. Furthermore, motorcyclists between the ages of 35 and 39 with BAC levels of 0.08% or greater had the highest percentage of fatalities (38%) in 2016.
Drivers who were previously convicted of driving while impaired (DWI) are more likely than other drivers to be involved in fatal intoxicated motor vehicle crashes, too. CDC reports drivers with a BAC level of 0.08% or greater involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2016 were 4.5 times more likely to have been convicted of DWI in comparison to drivers with no alcohol in their system.
Why Do People Drink and Drive?
Common reasons why people drink and drive include:
- Alcohol alters a person’s state of mind, and as such, an individual believes that there is no harm in driving under the influence.
- Alcohol reduces a person’s ability to judge his or her own sobriety.
- Alcohol creates a false sense of relaxation and confidence, causing a person to believe that he or she is capable of driving safely.
- Alcohol affects a person’s ability to judge his or her physical limitations; in this instance, an individual believes that he or she is in good physical condition to drive.
- A person is intoxicated but feels too embarrassed to ask a friend, family member, or another loved one for a ride home or contact a taxi or rideshare.
- An individual is a habitual drunk driver; in this scenario, a person may feel safe driving drunk without being caught.
There is no excuse for drinking and driving. If a person believes the consumption of alcohol has affected his or her ability to drive in any way, there is no reason to leave anything to chance. Instead, an intoxicated person should find a designated driver to take him or her home. Or, an intoxicated individual should stay with a friend or family member until he or she is capable of driving safely once again.
Is It Possible to Stop Drinking and Driving Crashes?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to stop all drinking and driving crashes. But CDC offers a variety of strategies to help prevent these incidents, including:
- Drunk Driving Laws: It is illegal in the United States for an individual to drive with a BAC level at or above 0.08%. There are also “zero tolerance” laws in place for drivers under the age of 21; these laws make it illegal for drivers under 21 to drive if they have any measurable amount of alcohol in their system.
- Sobriety Checkpoints: Police use sobriety checkpoints to stop vehicles at specific, highly visible locations and determine if a driver is impaired. They may stop all or certain drivers and administer breath tests if there is a reason to suspect that a driver is intoxicated.
- Ignition Interlocks: Ignition interlocks are sometimes installed in cars and measure alcohol on a driver’s breath. If a driver has a BAC above a certain level, an ignition interlock keeps his or her car from starting.
- Mass Media Campaigns: Mass media campaigns inform and educate drivers about the physical dangers and legal consequences of drunk driving. They are intended to persuade people not to drink and drive, as well as encourage them to keep other drivers from drinking and driving.
- Administrative License Revocation or Suspension Laws: Police use administrative license revocation or suspension laws to take away the license of a driver if he or she tests at or above the legal BAC limit or refuses testing.
The nationwide effort to prevent drinking and driving is ongoing. For those who are concerned that someone they know is dealing with an alcohol addiction that may lead to drinking and driving, it is important to pursue professional help. By doing so, a person could help stop a fatal drinking and driving crash before it ever happens.
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