Approximately 40 Of Fatal Highway Crashes Are Alcohol Related

Every day, 29 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver.1 This isone death every 50 minutes.1 The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $44 billion.2

Thankfully, there are effective measures that can help prevent injuries and deaths from alcohol-impaired driving.

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How big is the problem?

In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.1Of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.1In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year (figure below).Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes.4Marijuana users were about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use, however other factors–such as age and gender–may account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users.4

Annual Self-reported Alcohol-impaired Driving Episodes among U.S. Adults, 1993–2014

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Source: brianowens.tv. Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 1993–2014. Available at https://www.brianowens.tv/brfssNote: The annual estimated alcohol-impaired driving episodes were calculated using BRFSS respondents’ answers to this question: “During the past 30 days, how many times have you driven when you’ve had perhaps too much to drink?” Annual estimates per respondent were calculated by multiplying the reported episodes during the preceding 30 days by 12. These numbers were summed to obtain the annual national estimates (see https://www.brianowens.tv/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6430a2.htm).

Who is most at risk?

Young people:

At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people.6Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2016, nearly three in 10 were between 25 and 34 years of age (27%). The next two largest groups were ages 21 to 24 (26%) and 35 to 44 (22%).1

Motorcyclists:

Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2016, 25% had BACs of 0.08% or greater.1Motorcyclists ages 35-39 have the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or greater (38% in 2016).7

Drivers with prior driving while impaired (DWI) convictions:

Drivers with a BAC of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system. (9% and 2%, respectively).1

What are the effects of blood alcohol concentration (BAC)?

Information in this table shows the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level at which the effect usually is first observed.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)*Typical EffectsPredictable Effects on Driving
.02%About 2 alcoholic drinks** Some loss of judgmentRelaxationSlight body warmthAltered mood Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target)Decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
.05%About 3 alcoholic drinks** Exaggerated behaviorMay have loss of small-muscle control (e.g., focusing your eyes)Impaired judgmentUsually good feelingLowered alertnessRelease of inhibition Reduced coordinationReduced ability to track moving objectsDifficulty steeringReduced response to emergency driving situations
.08%About 4 alcoholic drinks** Muscle coordination becomes poor (e.g., balance, speech, vision, reaction time, and hearing)Harder to detect dangerJudgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are impaired ConcentrationShort-term memory lossSpeed controlReduced information processing capability (e.g., signal detection, visual search)Impaired perception
.10%About 5 alcoholic drinks** Clear deterioration of reaction time and controlSlurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinking Reduced ability to maintain lane position and brake appropriately
.15%About 7 alcoholic drinks** Far less muscle control than normalVomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed a tolerancefor alcohol)Major loss of balance Substantial impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving task, and in necessary visual and auditory information processing

*Blood Alcohol Concentration Measurement

The number of drinks listed represents the approximate amount of alcohol that a 160-pound man would need to drink in one hour to reach the listed BAC in each category.

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**A Standard Drink Size in the United States

A standard drink is equal to 14.0 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in

12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

Adapted from The ABCs of BACpdf iconexternal icon, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2005, and How to Control Your Drinking, WR Miller and RF Munoz, University of New Mexico, 1982.

How can deaths and injuries from impaired driving be prevented?

Effective measures include:

Actively enforcing existing 0.08% BAC laws, minimum legal drinking age laws, and zero tolerance laws for drivers younger than 21 years old in all states.4,8Putting health promotion efforts into practice that influence economic, organizational, policy, and school/community action.11,12Using community-based approaches to alcohol control and DWI prevention.8,12,13Requiring mandatory substance abuse assessment and treatment, if needed, for DWI offenders.14Raising the unit price of alcohol by increasing taxes.15

What safety steps can individuals take?

Make plans so that you don’t have to drive while impaired by alcohol and/or drugs. For example:

Before drinking, designate a non-drinking driver when with a group.Don’t let your friends drive while impaired.If you have been drinking alcohol and/or using drugs, get a ride home, use a ride share service, or call a taxi.If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate a sober driver. Offer alcohol-free beverages, and make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.

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ReferencesZador PL, Krawchuk SA, Voas RB. Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: an update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 2000; 61:387-395.Gielen AC, Sleet DA, DiClemente RJ. Modifying alcohol use to reduce motor vehicle injury. Injury and violence prevention: behavior science theories, methods, and applications. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006 pp 534. ISBN 978- 7879-7764-1Holder HD, Gruenewald PJ, Ponicki WR, et al. Effect of community-based interventions on high-risk drinking and alcohol-related injuries. JAMA 2000;284:2341-7.Shults RA, Elder RW, Nichols J, et al. Effectiveness of multicomponent programs with community mobilization for reducing alcohol-impaired driving. American Journal of Preventative Medicine,009;37(4):360-371.Higgins-Biddle J, Dilonardo J. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Alcohol and highway safety: screening and brief intervention for alcohol problems as a community approach to improving traffic safety. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2013 DOT HS 811 836.
Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
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