Drinking and driving while either impaired or drunk is dangerous. Drivers with high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) are at much greater risk of traffic crashes. This means more injuries and deaths.
- The Problem
- Possible Preventions
- Protect Yourself
- Protect Others
- Often Overlooked
I. The Problem: Drinking and Driving
Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is preventable. In fact, the proportion of alcohol-impaired driving crashes has dropped greatly over time.
But there are still far too many such crashes. So in spite of great progress, alcohol-impaired drinking and driving remains a serious problem. It tragically effects many victims and their families annually.
It’s all too easy to forget that statistics refer to real flesh and blood people. Therefore, this page is dedicated to a grandfather and his three grandchildren. They were all killed by a drunk driver. Family and friends deeply mourn their tragic death.
II. Facts about Drinking and Driving.
However, the risk of death from drinking and driving escalates with BAC. And it does so greatly. Over two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve a driver with a BAC over 0.15.1
High BAC drivers are more likely to be male and aged 25-35. Also, they often have a history of DWI convictions and drug abuse.
III. Possible Prevention
Possible prevention measures include these, among many others.
- DWI courts.
- License suspension or revocation.
- License plate confiscation.
- Vehicles impoundment.
- Open container bans.
- Increased penalties for drunk driving.
- Required alcohol education.
- Enforcement of seat belt laws.
- Expanded use of Designated Drivers.
Solutions for Reducing Drinking and Driving.
Alcohol-impaired drinking and driving resists simple solutions. However, there are a number of actions that could contribute to reducing the problem.
- DWI courts are effective in reducing drinking and driving while intoxicated. They work with hard-core repeat offenders. They do so by treating alcohol addiction. The recidivism or failure rate of DWI and DUI courts is very low.
- The single most effective measure to reduce drunk driving is automatic license revocation.2
- Automatic license revocation along with required jail appears to be even more effective.3
- Confiscating license plates.4
- Requiring ignition interlock devices. They prevent persons with alcohol on their breath from starting a vehicle.5
- Vehicle impoundment.6
- Expanding alcohol server training programs.7
- Using social norms programs. They correct the false belief that most people sometimes drive under the influence of alcohol.8
- Requiring alcohol testing in fatal crashes. That would help the prosecution of drunk drivers.9
Technological improvements include raised lane markers, which are easier to see. They also make a startling sound when a tire wanders over them. Similarly, corrugations along the edges of roads make a sound when driven over. This alerts inattentive drivers.
Other cost-effective improvements can save lives. They include wider roads, improved street and highway lighting and break-away sign posts.
Improvements in vehicles include brake lights at eye level, door crash bars, and many new computer-assisted features. The latter appear very promising.
Promising but Inadequately Evaluated Measures.
- Distinctive license plate marking for an alcohol offense.10
- Bans on open containers in vehicles.11 (Not all states have these.)12
- Tiered penalties based on BAC level.13 This is usual for speeding.
- Restricted nighttime driving by young people. This appears to be effective in those states with such restrictions.14
- Electronically monitoring of repeat DWI offenders.15
- Involve drivers in reporting drunk drivers. They can dial 911 on their cell phones. See Help Police Stop Drunken Drivers.
- Educate prospective drivers on alcohol and driving. Then test knowledge on driver’s exams.
We need to evaluate all of these very promising measures. This would determine their effectiveness.
Measures of Little or No Value.
- Jail or prison sentences for alcohol offenses. This is a popular policy. However, it’s of little value in deterring high BAC drivers.16 In short, it appears that we can’t “jail our way out of the problem.”17
- The perception of swift and certain punishment is more important than severity.18 Large fines appear to have little deterrent effect.19
- Increasing the cost of alcohol would have virtually no impact on reducing drunk driving.20 Both research and common sense suggest this. Cost doesn’t deter heavy drinkers. And most minors don’t buy their drinks.
IV. Protect Yourself
Society has done much to improve highway safety. However, you can do much to protect yourself.
- Don’t drive if alcohol-impaired. It’d dangerous and illegal. And also don’t ride with anyone who has too much to drink. Remember, drunk drivers usually kill themselves and their passengers.
- Serve as a Designated Driver.
- Always use a safety seat belt.
- Use four-lane highways whenever possible.
- Avoid rural roads.
- Avoid travel after midnight. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Drive defensively.
- Buy safe vehicles. Refer to safety ratings before buying your next vehicle.
- Never use illegal drugs. They cause a large proportion of traffic fatalities.
- Never drive when fatigued. The dangers are similar to intoxication. A drunk or fatigued driver has slowed reactions and impaired judgment. And a driver who nods off at the wheel has no reactions and no judgment!
- Don’t use a cell phone, apply make-up, comb your hair, or eat while driving. Drivers using cell phones are four times more likely to have an accident than other drivers.
- Steer clear of aggressive drivers. Aggressive drivers may be responsible for more deaths than drunk drivers.
If You Must Drive after Drinking, Stay Completely Sober.
- Standard drinks of beer, wine, and spirit have the same amount of pure alcohol. A breathalyzer can’t tell the difference.
- Eat while drinking. This helps keep your BAC down.
- Sip your drinks slowly.
- Don’t play drinking games.
- Have a non-alcoholic drink between alcoholic ones.
- Pace your drinks. A general rule of thumb is no more than one alcoholic drink per hour.
- Accept an alcoholic drink only when it fits your consumption schedule.
- Stick with standard drink sizes. That makes it easier to keep track of your intake of pure alcohol.
- Follow medical advice about drinking with any medications you’e taking.
IV. Protect Others.
Never condone heavy drinking. It’s dangerous.
Don’t ever let your friends drive drunk. Do whatever is necessary. Just don’t let them drive!
Be a responsible host.
Create a setting conducive to easy, comfortable socializing. One that discourages heavy drinking.
Serve food before beginning to serve alcoholic drinks.
Have a responsible bartender or server who doesn’t push alcoholic drinks
Don’t have an “open bar.” A responsible person needs to supervise consumption to ensure that no one drinks too much. You have both a moral and a legal responsibility to make sure that none of your guests drink too much.
Pace alcoholic drinks. Serve them at regular intervals. Once an hour is a good guideline.
Offer attractive non-alcohol drinks.
Respect anyone’s choice not to drink. Their reason is their business.
Decide when you want the gathering to end. Stop serving alcohol well before that time. Then begin serving coffee along with substantial snacks. This provides non-drinking time before your guests leave.
Assert Yourself if Necessary
Don’t let anyone drive after the gathering if you think they seem impaired. Think ahead. Have another guest take them home. Call a taxi. Ask them to stay the night. But don’t let them drive if they seem impaired. That’s your legal and moral obligation.
The Good News
We can do it! While we must do even more to reduce drunk driving, we have already accomplished a great deal.
Visit Alcohol Help.
The number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities per 100,000 population has dropped over two-thirds since 1982. Other measures of the problem are similar. So we’re clearly winning the battle against alcohol-related traffic deaths.
But we can and must do even better.
Remember, never drive if you, or anyone else, thinks that you may have had too much to drink. And don’t let anyone else. That includes reporting drivers who appear drunk. It’s always safest not to drink and drive. Use a Designated Driver.
VI. Often Overlooked
Often overlooked traffic safety problems include drugged driving and distracted driving.
After Drunk Driving….
Technology may soon virtually eliminate drunk driving. But testing for drug use by drivers is very difficult. And solving the distracted driving problem seems far in the future.
Let’s start working on them now!
People know the dangers of drinking and driving. But there are two other serious traffic safety problems. Drugged driving is one. Distracted driving is the other. These may account for even more fatalities that drunk driving.
Studies have looked at drivers stopped for erratic driving, involved in a crash, or killed in a crash. Over one-third had at least one drug in their bodies. Many were under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.21
Surveys report a large increase in drugged drivers over a seven year period. (Those with alcohol in their blood dropped by almost one-third during the period.)22
At any moment during daylight, about 660,000 drivers in the U.S. are using an electronic device. A total of 421,000 people in a recent year were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. Thousands died.23 And the problem continues to get worse.
- Films Human Sci. Drinking and Driving. A Crash Course. eVideo. NY: Films Media, 2015.
- Goodman, K. and Simon, K. Safe Road Home. Stop Your Teen from Drinking & Driving. NY: Sterling, 2005.
- Kiesbye, S. Distracted Driving. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2012.
- Kiesbye, S. Drunk Driving. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2011.
- Mendralla, V. and Grosshandler, J. Drinking and Driving, Now What? NY: Rosen, 2012. Juv.
- Van Tuyl, C. Drunk Driving. Detroit: Greenhaven, 2006.
- Natl Highway Traff Safe Ad (NHTSA) Impaired Driving. 2016.
- Nichols, J. and Ross, H. The effectiveness of legal sanctions in dealing with drinking drivers. NCJ 131534.
- Nichols and Ross, ibid.
- Cent Disease Control Prev. License Plate Impoundment.
- Elder, R.W., et al. Effectiveness of ignition interlocks. Am J Prev Med, 2011, 40(3), 362’“376
- NHTSA. Evaluation Of Vehicle Impoundment.
- Holder, H. and Wagenaar, A. Mandated server training. Accid Anal Prev, 1994, 26(1), 89-97.
- Pribble, J., et al. A social norms strategy to reduce impaired driving. Ann Emerg Med, 2006, 48(6), 739.
- Brady, J., et al. Effectiveness of mandatory alcohol testing programs. Am J Epid, 2009, 170(6), 775-82.
- NHTSA. Vehicle and License Plate Sanctions. DOT HS 810 880. 2018.
- Cathey, J. The Effects of Alcohol Regulation and Legislation. U. Tenn, 2009.
- Nat. Conf. State Legislators. Open Container and Open Consumption of Alcohol State Statutes. Washington: NCSL, 2013.
- Voas, R. and Fisher, D. Court Procedures for Handling Intoxicated Drivers.
- Monash U. Night Driving Restriction Reduces Young Driver Crashes. 2015.
- Voas, R. and Fisher, D., ibid.
- Homel, R. Policing and Punishing the Drinking Driver.
- Ross, H. and Klette, H. Abandonment of mandatory jail for impaired drivers in Norway and Sweden. Accid Analy Prev, 1995, 27(2), 151-157.
- Joksch. H. The Impact of Severe Penalties on Drunk Driving. Washington: AAA Found for Traff Safe, 1988.
- Ross, H. Drunk Driving. New Haven: Yale U Press, 1992.
- Hanson, D. Preventing Alcohol Abuse.
- NIDA. Drugged Driving.
- NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. DOT 812 118, 2015.