How Many People Drink and Drive?
Every single day in some community throughout the U.S., the media reports on tragedies caused by people driving while intoxicated. In 2016, an estimated 10,497 people were killed in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC), designated in the U.S. as .08 or greater. Of those, 67% (7,052) involved crashes in which at least one driver had a BAC of .15 or higher. Although news outlets tend to report on fatalities, 1.5 million people in the U.S. are arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) annually. Statistics show more than 300,000 people a day drive intoxicated, but only about 3,200 are arrested. In 2016, the largest percentage of those arrests (25.3%) were in individuals ages 18-24 and beer was implicated the most (54%).
On occasion, a DUI story of nearly unfathomable proportions is published. Serial DUI offender Tasha Lynn Schleicher, a 41-year-old Minnesota woman, was arrested in Riverside, Illinois. She was found sitting in her running car at a gas station in Riverside with an open bottle of Crown Royal whiskey in the front passenger seat. She was also trying to fill her car with kerosene and thought all of her children were with her in the vehicle. Since 2006, Schleicher has been arrested on DUI charges in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana, California, Oregon and Minnesota, and is wanted on warrants in Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon. She lost custody of her children through various child custody actions. An October 2017 DUI arrest involved breastfeeding one of her children while driving drunk. The Riverside charges against Schleicher included two counts of felony aggravated drunken driving, two counts of misdemeanor drunk driving, failure to have vehicle insurance, driving with a revoked license and transporting open alcohol while driving.
Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel said one reason Schleicher was able to collect so many DUI arrests is that police departments do not have a national database of all DUI arrests. Many municipalities cite first-time DUI offenders with local citations, unaware other arrests were made. Local DUI arrests are not required to be entered into a larger record database. Although Schleicher’s case seems extreme, 58% of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license. The average number of times a person drives drunk before being caught is 80 and an estimated 29% of convicted drunk drivers are repeat offenders.
Drunk Driving Facts and Stats
- According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), almost 29 people in the U.S. died every day in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes in 2016, which equates to one person every 50 minutes.
- Every two minutes, a person is injured in a drunk driving crash, which equates to 290,000 injuries.
- In 2016, 3% of fatal alcohol-related crashes occurred at night and nearly twice as many occurred during weekends compared to weekdays.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 4.2 million Americans admitted to driving drunk at least once in the past month, which equaled about 121 million DUI episodes in 2012.
- The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes in the U.S. is more than $44 billion.
- Alcohol-impaired fatalities comprised 28% of all vehicular deaths in 2016.
- Men are more likely than women to be driving drunk in fatal crashes. In 2016, 21% of males were intoxicated in these crashes versus 14% of females.
According to the NHTSA, a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood (g/dL) increases the risk of a crash exponentially. Driving with a BAC of .08 or higher is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. But even a small amount of alcohol can impact driving ability, as evidenced by 2,017 alcohol-related fatalities in 2016 in which drivers had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07).
Like other alcohol-related deaths, driving fatalities are largely preventable. Multi-component interventions that have made a difference include tougher DUI laws, ignition interlocks, school-based teen education and alcohol screenings/interventions. Between 1991 and 2016, drunk driving fatalities decreased by 49%, with 68% of the decrease in individuals ages 21 and younger.