Alcohol-Impaired Driving

Alcohol-impaired driving continues to be one of the biggest safety issues on U.S. roads. In 2017, 10,874 people were killed in alcohol-impaired crashes, a 1% decrease from the 10,996 deaths in 2016. Alcohol-impaired driving crashes involve at least one driver or motorcycle operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher.

Progress has been made in reducing alcohol-impaired crashes. In 1982, 48% of all traffic deaths involved alcohol-impaired crashes. This is down to 29% of deaths in 2017. The percentage of lower BAC alcohol-involved crashes (from 0.01 to 0.07 g/dL) has been very stable over the decades, fluctuating between 5% and 7%.

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Multiple programs have contributed to the decrease in alcohol-related deaths on U.S. roads, including high visibility enforcement and minimum drinking age laws. NHTSA estimates that minimum drinking age laws have saved more than 31,000 lives since 1975, with 538 lives saved in 2017 alone.

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The prevalence of alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal crashes varies by age. More than 26% of 21- to 34-year-old drivers in fatal crashes were impaired (BAC 0.08+ g/dL). This percent drops to less than 20% in the 45 to 54 age group and under 10% in the 65 to 74 age group.

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Nearly 16% of drivers in fatal crashes who test positive for alcohol fall below the 0.08 g/dL BAC legal limit. About half of the drivers in fatal crashes that test positive for alcohol have BACs of 0.16 g/dL or higher. The prevalence of positive BAC levels peak at the 0.16 g/dL level and steadily decline as BAC levels increase.

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The infographic provides an overview of the environmental factors associated with alcohol-impaired crashes. More than half occur on urban roads, and the vast majority happen in good weather (90%). Seventy percent of these crashes occur at night, and 35% occur on residential streets (local and collector roads). In 2017, July experienced the most alcohol-impaired crashes (9.6% of the yearly total), while February experienced the fewest (6.9%).

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Sources:

National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2018, May). Traffic Safety Facts 2016 (Report No. DOT HS 812 554). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2018, November). Alcohol-impaired driving: 2017 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 812 630). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2005, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2018). Lives saved by restraint use and minimum drinking age laws (Traffic Safety Facts Report No. DOT HS 809 860, DOT HS 810 869, DOT HS 811 153, DOT HS 811 851, DOT HS 812 683). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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