Across the United States, drunk driving is a leading cause of death. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there are more than 10,500 alcohol-related deaths every year. There are over 25,000 injuries caused by alcohol-impaired driving each year. While the number of alcohol-related fatalities has declined from its peak in the 1980s, the problem remains serious.
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The number of fatalities due to drunk driving varies by location and age. For instance, the District of Columbia has the lowest rate of fatalities among the 50 states. The largest percentage of fatalities related to drunk driving occurred in North Dakota.
The most common time for fatal crashes to occur is in the early morning or late evening. The risk of drunk driving is highest during the summer months. In the summer, approximately one in three fatal crashes involve a driver who is legally intoxicated. The Fourth of July is considered the most dangerous drunk driving day of the year.
Drunk driving is also a major factor in the holiday season. During the four-day Labor Day holiday period, 142 Americans lost their lives in alcohol-related crashes. This was the second most deadly holiday in the past five years. During the Thanksgiving to New Year’s period, an estimated 25,000 people suffered injuries in alcohol-related crashes.
While drunk drivers account for a majority of motor vehicle crashes, they aren’t the only human factor in car crashes. Lightning strikes, lightning bolts, and lightning-caused accidents also kill or injure a large number of people each year. In addition to those three categories of injuries, there are an additional 26 deaths each year from lightning-caused accidents.
The number of alcohol-related fatalities decreased in the years following 1991. The rate of drunk driving fatalities per 100,000 people was nearly 50% lower in 2017 than in 1991. While the rate of total alcohol-impaired driving fatalities fell from 9.1 to 3.2, the rate for drivers at legal drinking age declined from 68.5 percent to 47.9.
Despite the decline in drunk driving fatalities, there are still thousands of people killed each year. Among those killed in an alcohol-impaired driving crash, the majority of the victims were under the age of 21. Those under the age of 18 make up nearly 27% of all alcohol-impaired drivers. Those aged 25 to 34 make up about 23% of all alcohol-impaired drivers.
The risk of fatal drunk driving crashes is greater among drivers who have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. Approximately one in three drivers who are arrested for drunk driving have a previous DUI conviction. Those who have a BAC over the legal limit are seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a sober driver. However, the likelihood of intoxication varies by gender, age, and time of day. The odds of being in a fatal crash increase by more than two-fold at night.
The majority of alcohol-related fatal crashes take place in urban areas. Approximately 8 percent of alcohol-related fatal crashes take place in rainy conditions. Almost nine percent of these crashes occur in the dark or at dusk. Approximately three percent of these fatal crashes occur in other types of conditions.