Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 48 minutes. These deaths have fallen by a third in the last three decades; however, drunk-driving crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year. In 2010, the most recent year for which cost data is available, these deaths and damages contributed to a cost of $44 billion that year.
How alcohol affects driving ability
Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.
As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase, too. Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Then it passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates until it is metabolized by the liver. Alcohol level is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter (g/dL) of blood, crash risk increases exponentially. Because of this risk, it’s illegal in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher. However, even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability. In 2017, there were 1,837 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where drivers had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07 g/dL).
BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test.
KNOW THE FACTSInteractions between alcohol and other substances in the body such as certain medications or illegal drugs increase impairment and make driving more risky.ALSO SEE DRUG-IMPAIRED DRIVING
Driving a vehicle while impaired is a dangerous crime. Tough enforcement of drunk-driving laws has been a major factor in reducing drunk-driving deaths since the 1980s. Charges range from misdemeanors to felony offenses, and penalties for impaired driving can include driver’s license revocation, fines, and jail time. It’s also extremely expensive. A first-time offense can cost the driver upwards of $10,000 in fines and legal fees.
Some States require offenders to install ignition interlock devices at the driver’s own expense. An ignition interlock device is a breath test device connected to a vehicle’s ignition. The vehicle will not start unless the driver blows into the interlock and has a BAC below a pre-set low limit, usually .02 g/dL. NHTSA strongly supports the expansion of ignition interlocks as a proven technology that keeps drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel.THE ISSUE
BEING A RESPONSIBLE DRIVER IS SIMPLE: IF YOU ARE DRINKING, DO NOT DRIVE.
- Plan your safe ride home before you start the party, choose a non-drinking friend as a designated driver.
- If someone you know has been drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel. Take their keys and help them arrange a sober ride home.
- If you drink, do not drive for any reason. Call a taxi, a ride-hailing service, or a sober friend.
- If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
- Always wear your seat belt—it’s your best defense against impaired drivers.
If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement. Your actions could help save someone’s life.