Drunk driving is involved in about one-third of all traffic deaths in the U.S.
Even if you never participated in DARE, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program that took place in public schools from 1983 to 2009, you probably already know the risks of driving drunk. Alcohol slows your coordination and reaction times, hinders your judgment and blurs your vision, making your driving less than stellar. But do you know how big a problem drunk driving still is in the United States today?
Alcohol-impaired driving is when a driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08, the legal limit in the U.S., or above. In the U.S., 32 people are killed in drunk-driving motor vehicle crashes every day.
In 2020, the most recent year that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published national data, 11,654 people died in drunk-driving crashes, a 14 percent increase from 2019. Drunk driving is involved in one in three fatal crashes in the U.S., making it one of the most common causes of motor vehicle fatalities.1
From 2006 to 2020, the number of drunk-driving fatalities decreased by 15 percent. While in 2006, 80 percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol impairment, by 2020, that number had decreased to 78 percent, a trend we’d like to see continue in years to come.
The worst state for drunk driving is Montana. In this state, 67 percent of fatal crashes in 2020 involved drunk driving. On the other end of the spectrum is Alaska, where only 35 percent of traffic fatalities were alcohol-related. The average across all states is 51 percent, accounting for about half of all motor vehicle deaths.
Note that the NHTSA records data based on the driver involved with the highest BAC, so if there are two drivers in the crash, one with a BAC of 0.00 (sober) and one with a BAC of 0.09 (drunk), the latter will be recorded and the accident will be considered alcohol-impaired.
|State||Percentage of fatal crashes with highest driver BAC of .08 and higher, 2020|
|District of Columbia||43%|
While teen drivers get a bad reputation for underage drinking and driving, the demographic that dies from drunk driving the most is adults ages 25 to 34. In 2020, 59 percent of fatal crashes among this age group involved drunk driving, compared to an average of 50 percent across all age groups.
That said, car crashes are a leading cause of death for teens. Learn more about this issue in our roundup of teen driver crash statistics.
The lowest drunk-driving rates in 2020 were found with senior drivers ages 75 and older. Less than a third of all traffic fatalities in that age group involved alcohol impairment. Generally, drunk driving peaks at age 34 and steadily declines through late adulthood.
In debates about gun laws, many people compare gun violence to drunk driving. But which kills more people in the U.S.?
Nationally, the answer is drunk driving. In 2020, for example, drunk driving killed 21,928 more people in the U.S. than guns, or 130 percent more, according to data from the Violence Policy Center.2
However, there are some states in which gun deaths outnumber drunk driving deaths. In Virginia, for example, there were 94 percent more gun deaths than drunk-driving deaths in 2020. Other states where gun violence deaths outweighed drunk-driving deaths include:
See your state’s comparison below.
|State||Number of gun deaths in 2020||Number of alcohol-impaired motor vehicle deaths in 2020|
|District of Columbia||167||51|
Utah had the largest disparity between the number of deaths from gun violence vs. drunk driving. In 2020, there were 9,203 DUI-involved deaths and only 429 gun deaths, a difference of 2,045 percent.
When it comes to drunk driving, you may hear a lot of acronyms thrown around: DUI, DWI, OWI, SR-22 and more. But what’s the difference between DUIs and DWIs?
Both DUIs and DWIs can be misdemeanors or felonies, depending on whether it was a first offense and the results of the incident, such as any deaths or serious injuries. While misdemeanors typically result in a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine, felonies could mean years in prison, thousands in fines, license suspension and a loss of voting rights in the most extreme cases.
Whether you’re driving under the influence of just alcohol or mixing alcohol with drugs, your driving will be affected negatively. Here’s how.
In 2020, 5,268 motorcyclists were killed in traffic crashes, 27 percent of whom had BACs of .08 or higher. This is the highest percentage of alcohol-impaired drivers than for any other vehicle type. Zooming in on the data further, motorcyclists ages 45 to 49 had the highest rate of drunk-driving deaths, with 35 percent of traffic fatalities in that demographic involving drunk driving.
Speeding is also related to drunk driving, according to data from the National Safety Council. One-third of speeding drivers who died in traffic accidents in 2020 were drunk. Learn more about teen speeding.
Not surprisingly, people with previous convictions for driving while impaired were more likely to die in fatal crashes compared to those with no prior conviction — four times more likely, to be specific.
Of course, it’s illegal to drive drunk in every state and doing so can result in either a misdemeanor or felony charge. A drunk-driving conviction could result in:
An SR-22 is a form that proves you have the minimum coverage your state requires in car insurance. However, some states require FR-44s, which require more coverage than the bare minimum.
Aside from the legal fees you may have to pay following a drunk-driving conviction, there’s also the increased cost of car insurance with a DUI on your record. On average, you can expect your insurance rate to increase by 80 percent, with some insurers raising premiums anywhere from 28 percent to 371 percent. That increase will affect your insurance rates until your DUI is off your motor vehicle report, after which your rates should go back to normal.
However, getting a DUI off your motor vehicle report could take years and, in the meantime, you’ll have issues finding affordable insurance as you’ll be considered a high-risk or nonstandard driver. To explore your options, check out our recommendations for the best high-risk auto insurance.
It’s no secret that drunk driving can cause property damage, injuries and death.
While driving home tipsy may not seem like a big deal, it can produce lifelong consequences. But with the proliferation of rideshare services like Uber, drinking and driving is becoming less common in the U.S. It’s certainly worth the money if you have no safer option!
We used third-party sources to create this report, including:
According to 2020 data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 7 percent of U.S. residents ages 16 and older admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol in the prior year.
France had the highest average number of days where people consumed alcohol in 2020: 132 days out of 365 (about 36 percent of the time). People in the U.S., in contrast, drank about 22 percent of the time, according to the 2021 Global Drug Survey.
The DUI capital of the U.S. is Montana. In 2020, 67 percent of fatal crashes involved a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher, compared to a national average of 51 percent, according to the NHTSA.
According to 2020 data from the NHTSA, the city with the highest number of drunk driving deaths is Los Angeles. Out of 2,606 fatal crashes that year, 1,391 involved drivers with BACs of .08 or higher, or 53 percent. City-specific data on DUI convictions is not available nationally.
Drunk Driving. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2023).
Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths in 34 States and the District of Columbia in 2020. Violence Policy Center. (2022, Apr).
DUI and DWI Overview. NOLO. (2023).
Motor Vehicle Safety Issues: Speeding. National Safety Council Injury Facts. (2023).