Drunk Driving

While drunk driving fatalities have been nearly cut in half since 1982, driving under the influence (DUI) continues to be a factor in a third of all fatal crashes.

The Dangers of Drunk Driving

Drunk driving is more than bad decision-making, it is a criminal act that often results in unnecessary loss of life. Alcohol-related crashes have been nearly cut in half since 1982, but the percentage of crashes that involve a drunk driver are still high. Each day, 29 lives are lost due to drunk driving in the US, or one death every 50 minutes. Nearly a third of all traffic-related fatalities involve a drunk driver. In total, drunk drivers killed 10,497 people in 2016.

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How Alcohol Affects You Behind the Wheel

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, meaning various automatic bodily processes are slowed following consumption. Additionally, brain function slows and thinking, decision-making, and muscle coordination is impaired. Each of these aspects is vital to driving. Alcohol has compounding effects on the body, so increasing amounts in the circulatory system have amplified effects.

The stages of effects of alcohol on the body are:

Blood Alcohol LevelEquivalent DrinksEffects on BodyEffects on Driving
.02 BACApprox. 2 drinksFeelings of relaxation, increased body temperature, altered mood, some loss of judgmentDecreased visual ability to rapidly track objects and ability to multi-task
.05 BACApprox. 3 drinksExaggerated behavior, some small-muscle control loss, impaired judgment, lowered alertness and inhibitionAmplified effects from above, difficulty steering and reduced response times
.08 BAC (legal limit*)Approx. 4 drinksDeterioration of muscle control (i.e. balance, speech, vision, reaction time, hearing), self-control, and reasoning skillsDecreased concentration, short-term memory, speed control, information-processing capability, and perception
.10 BACApprox. 5 drinksFull loss of control of reaction time, slurred speech, uncoordinated, slowed thinkingAmplified effects from every category above, reduced ability to stay in lane and brake properly
.15 BACApprox. 7 drinksGreatly reduced muscle control and loss of balance, vomiting (unless person has built a tolerance)Significant impairment in vehicle control, attention to driving and in necessary visual and auditory information processing

*Effective December 30, 2018, Utah reduced the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05% BAC. HB155 remains a divisive issue in the Beehive State; 50% of Utahans support the bill’s passage while 47% oppose it.

The Effects of Drunk Driving on Society

One Of The Best Ways To Avoid Drunk Driving Is To Designate A Sober DriverRecent data reveals that drunk driving-related death and damages costs the US $201.1 billion a year. Economic costs include lost productivity, legal and court expenses, medical costs, insurance bills, traffic congestion, and property damage. Comparatively, men are involved in more alcohol-related car accidents than women (typically three times as often). Crashes occur more often in areas with low population density, and 70% of fatal crashes take place at night.

Alcohol-related crime commonly accompanies populations with high rates of alcoholism. It is a factor in 40% of all violent crimes and 37% of inmates report drinking prior to their arrest. Driving Under the Influence (DUI), Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), and Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) are the criminal classifications of drunk driving. Penalties for each vary between states. Easier access to public transportation may keep DUI rates in large cities (even those with sizable drinking cultures) below the national average. Cities with the highest rate of DUIs include Cheyenne, Wyoming (277% higher than the national average); Orange, California (194% higher); and Billings, Montana (191% higher). Cities with the lowest DUI rates include New York City (29% lower than the national average) and Chicago (66% lower).

The majority of DUI arrests and alcohol-related crashes are committed by repeat offenders; over half of arrests include drivers with a suspended license. On average, a person has driven drunk at least 80 times before they are arrested. There are 300,000 incidents of drunk driving each day across the US.

Drunk Driving and the Loss of Young Life

Alcoholism is known as the family disease. Thus, it is not surprising that the effects of drunk driving can be most devastating to families. The dangerous practice is a major killer of youth behind the wheel – as well as in the backseat. Fatal car accidents are the leading cause of death among teens. Of fatal drunk driving accidents involving teens, 25% involve an underage drinker. Impaired drivers between the ages of 16- and 24-years old account for 39% of all drunk drivers. Drivers between 25 and 34 make up another 29%. 61% of all children killed in an alcohol-related car wreck were in a vehicle with a drunk driver (individuals with a confirmed BAC over 0.08%).

Drunk Driving Statistics

1.1
million

More than 1.1 million drivers received DUIs in 2016.

66
percent

An average of 66% of people will experience an alcohol-related car wreck in their lifetime.

214
deadly crashes

214 traffic deaths among children involved a drunk driver in 2016.

Resources for Impaired Drivers

Despite the reduction in drunk driving fatalities in the last three decades, more than 10,000 people are still killed annually. Some states, like New Mexico, require ignition interlock systems to be installed after a DWI conviction. These systems avert approximately 70% of drunk driving instances by requiring the driver to undergo a breathalyzer before the vehicle will start.

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Drunk Driving

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

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Alcoholism Treatment Options

Impaired driving is just one of the risky behaviors an individual suffering from addiction may do. The abuse of alcohol, coupled with lowered inhibitions, can yield destructive and deadly consequences. Fortunately, there are many treatment options to help an individual recover. Detox, counseling, spiritual treatment, and alcoholism treatment medication may be used to treat an alcohol use disorder. Talk to a dedicated treatment specialist for more information.

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