Drivers' Manuals Fail Accuracy Test

People studying for their driver test should learn correct information. Unfortunately, they won't always find it in the driver's manuals provided by some states.

For example, applicants for a driver's license in Iowa are required to learn that "Nearly 50 percent of all fatal Iowa accidents are related to alcohol use." 1 But that's very incorrect, being nearly double the real number. The Iowa Department of transportation has acknowledged that the incorrect statistic published in its manual is a decade old and that the correct figure is only 26.4%. 2

Idaho's Driver's Manual compounds its errors, stating that "The combination of drinking and driving accounts for approximately half of all fatal accidents. Alcohol Kills over 25,000 people a year on U.S. highways." 3 Not so.

The correct number is 38% and the number of fatalities is also overstated by about two-thirds.. Even worse, the manual converts alcohol-related into "accounts for." But alcohol-related does not mean caused by alcohol.

For example, when a person who has drunk some alcohol is waiting at a stop light and is rear-ended by a completely sober but careless driver, the resulting accident is considered an alcohol-related crash, although alcohol had nothing at all to do with causing it.

All it takes for an accident to be called alcohol-related is for anyone involved in the accident to have had a sip of alcohol... or for the investigating officer to believe that someone may have had just a sip of alcohol.

In some states, an accident is called alcohol-related if the officer checks the "Alcohol or Drugs" box. So if an officer suspects that marijuana may have been used by anyone involved, the accident is later routinely categorized as alcohol-related.

So alcohol doesn't even account for 38% of all fatal automobile accidents. Of course, 38% is still too many and we must continue our efforts to reduce that number even more.

The North Carolina Driver's Manual fails to recognize the distinction between alcohol-related (which, remember, can involvejust a sip of alcohol, or the suspicion of a sip of alcohol) and "drunken," insisting that about 38% of all traffic fatalities involve a drunken person. 4 The actual number of drunken drivers involved in fatal accidents is 17%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 5 So North Carolina is incorrectly teaching that the number is over twice as high as it really is.

But it gets worse. North Carolina's 38% refers to anyone involved in the accident, not just the driver. It includes passengers, bystanders, or people in other car or other vehicles. Thus, its false statistic is even more highly inflated than it first appears.

In Utah, the errors are are limited to inflating both the proportion of alcohol-related fatal crashes and the number of fatalities involved. The Utah Driver Manual incorrectly states that "Almost half of the accidents in which people are killed nationally involve drinking. There are more than 25,000 of those accidents each year." 6

Stating that "Nearly 50% of all fatal collisions in Vermont are alcohol related," the Vermont Driver's Manual: Doing More for Vermont, isn't doing Vermont any apparent good by incorrectly reporting that its alcohol-related vehicular fatality record is nearly 50% when the state's rate is actually only 38%, according to official records. 7

Citizens beware. Test-takers who know the facts may fail their driver test because of their knowledge. Ouch!

More serious is the fact that exaggerating the extent of impaired driving actually contributes to the problem because people then think it is more common and acceptable than it really is. Therefore, they are more likely to engage in drinking and driving.


  • 1. Iowa Department of Transportation. Iowa driver's Manual, p. 56,
  • 2. Ofice of Driver Services, Iowa Department of Transportation, personal communication.
  • 3. Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles. Idaho Driver's Manual. Boise, Idaho: Idaho Transportation Department, Division of Motor Vehicles, 2001, section 8, page 4. (
  • 4. North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. North Carolina Driver's Manual. Sample test question # 8.
  • 5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Center for Statistics and Analysis (199). Cited in
  • 6. Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division. Utah Driver Handbook. Salt Lake City, Utah: Department of Public Safety, Driver License Division, 2002, p. 62.
  • 7. Department of Motor Vehicles. Vermont Driver's Manual: Doing More for Vermont. Montpelier, Vermont: Agency of Transportation, Department of Motor Vehicles, 2001. p. 47; correct statistic reported by the Vermont Agency for Transportation, personal communication, 8/30/02.

filed under: Drinking and Driving