Drinking and Driving
Driving while either intoxicated or drunk is dangerous and drivers with high blood alcohol content (BAC) are at increased risk of car accidents, highway injuries and vehicular deaths. Prevention measures evaluated include license suspension or revocation, impounding or confiscating vehicle plates, enforcing open container bans, increasing penalties such as fines or jail for drunk driving, mandating education for young people, and lowering legal BACs. Also discussed are safety seat belts, air bags, designated drivers, and effective practical ways to stay sober.
Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is totally preventable. Unfortunately, over twenty percent of all traffic fatalities in the United State each year are caused by drunk drivers. 1 Thus, drunk driving remains a serious national problem that tragically affects thousands of victims annually.
It's easy to forget that dry statistics represent real people and real lives. Therefore, this page is dedicated to the memory of one randomly-selected victim of a drunk driver, young Donette Rae Jackson.
Most drivers who have had something to drink have low blood alcohol content or concentration (BAC) and few are involved in fatal crashes. On the other hand, while only a few drivers have BACs higher than .15, many of those drivers have fatal crashes.
The average BAC among fatally injured drinking drivers is .17.
Almost half of fatally injured drinking drivers have a BAC of .20 or over (which is twice the legal limit in most jurisdictions). High BAC drivers tend to be male, aged 25-35, and have a history of DWI convictions and polydrug abuse.
Drunk driving, like most other social problems, resists simple solutions. However, there are a number of actions, each of which can contribute toward a reduction of the problem:
Automatic license revocation appears to be the single most effective measure to reduce drunk driving. Not only is license revocation effective, but we should remember that driving is a privilege, not a right. Just as we do not license those who lack eyesight, we should not hesitate to revoke the licenses of those who lack the good judgment not to drive drunk.
Automatic license revocation along with a mandatory jail sentence appears to be even more effective than just automatic license revocation.
Passing mandatory alcohol and drug testing in fatal crashes would promote successful prosecution of drunk and drugged drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 18-20% of injured drivers are using drugs and although drinking is on the decline, drugging is on the increase. However, this figure appears to be much too low. For example:
A study by the Addiction Research Foundation of vehicle crash victims who tested positive for either legal or illegal substances found that just 15% had consumed only alcohol.
A Tennessee study found that over half of reckless drivers not intoxicated by alcohol were intoxicated by other substances and noted that "Studies of injured drivers suggest that driving under the influence of drugs other than alcohol is a growing cause of traffic injuries in the United States."