Understanding Drunk Driving
Driving under the influence (DUI), or impaired driving, refers to drinking alcohol and then operating a motor vehicle. Motor vehicles are not limited to just cars; this also includes bicycles, motorcycles, golf carts, boats, jet-skis, and lawn mowers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 11,654 Americans were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2020; deaths like these were 30% of all total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States. It is also estimated that 1.5 million people are arrested each year for driving under the influence of alcohol. Impaired driving continues to be a serious traffic safety and public health issue for the entire country.
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It is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to drive with blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 or higher. BAC is the percentage of alcohol in the bloodstream. If someone has a BAC at or above the legal limit, they are legally considered impaired. However, it’s important to note that critical thinking and fine motor skills begin to drop as early as the first sip of alcohol.
If you know someone struggling with alcohol abuse, there is help available.
Drunk Driving Statistics
Young people between the ages of 21 to 25 years old are the most likely to drive drunk.
Repeat offenders comprise almost one-third of all convicted drunk drivers.
Alcohol-related accidents cost taxpayers $100 billion.
Consequences Of Driving Drunk
If someone drives drunk and survives a crash that injures or kills other people, they must live with the consequences. That emotional burden can be worse than any bodily harm.
But the physical perils of drunk driving are immense too. Impaired driving can cause accidents that lead to paralysis, disfigurement, brain damage, and even death.
Impaired driving is also a crime. Drunk drivers often pay significant fines, lose their license, and face higher insurance costs. Common punishments for conviction of a drunken driving-related offense can include:
- Driver’s license suspension/revocation
- Vehicle impoundment
- Vehicle license plate confiscation
- Ignition interlock device (IID) restrictions
- Alcohol abuse evaluations
- Mandatory alcohol abuse treatment programs
- Monitored sobriety
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Drunk Driving Dangers
Alcohol’s sedating effects impair a driver’s decision-making skills and coordination. An impaired driver lacks the ability to quickly and decisively avoid an accident or even perform routine driving maneuvers. Drunk drivers endanger themselves and everyone on the road, increasing the risk of automobile crashes and deaths.
Every day, about 32 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 45 minutes.
Impaired driving doesn’t just affect those in cars. Drunken motorcyclists, boaters, and jet-skiers are all at risk of causing accidents and injuries.
Drunk driving is as prevalent as it is lethal. According to the US Department of Transportation, nearly 4 million American adults committed an estimated 112 million drunk-driving incidents in 2010 alone. Despite the high volume of drunk driving episodes, only a small percentage of impaired drivers are arrested. There are almost 300,000 drunk driving incidents in America each day. Arrests are made in only 0.013% of these cases.
Drunk Driving And Addiction Treatment
Drunk driving may be the symptom of an alcohol addiction. Continuing to drink in spite of a DUI conviction or a stint in jail is often a telltale sign of addiction.
If you or someone you care about is battling an alcohol addiction, seek help. Inpatient and outpatient treatment programs are available across the country. Contact a treatment provider to find available treatment options.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience