Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) continues to be a highly dangerous epidemic facing the United States. Examining the key statistics and data around drunk driving provides critical insights into the primary at-risk groups, high risk locations, dangerous times of year, current trends, and progress made towards reducing alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.
DUI/DWI Arrest Statistics
In 2019, over 1 million drivers were arrested for DUI/DWI in the United States. This equals around 1% of the total 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among adults that year. So the odds of being arrested remain fairly low, although risks escalate with repeat offenses.
DUI arrests vary significantly by state. States with the highest DUI arrest rates per 100,000 population in 2020 include:
South Dakota – 709 arrests Wyoming – 699 arrests Montana – 510 arrests Alaska – 501 arrests North Dakota – 423 arrests
These rural states with low populations have less access to public transportation, which increases impaired driving risk.
Meanwhile, more populous states see sheer volumes of DUI arrests, including:
California – 346,908 arrests Florida – 29,588 arrests Texas – 29,513 arrests Pennsylvania – 28,744 arrests Michigan – 19,463 arrests
DUI/DWI arrest rates in the U.S. peaked around 2007 and 2008 following decades of stricter laws and a minimum legal BAC limit of .08% implemented nationally. Arrests declined by over 20% between 2008-2019 as attitudes shifted.
Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatality Statistics
From 1982 to 2019, drunk driving fatalities in the U.S. dropped 52% from over 21,000 deaths to under 11,000 annually. This is substantial progress, although still tragically high.
In 2019 specifically, there were 10,142 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities nationwide accounting for nearly 29% of all traffic deaths that year. Of these fatalities:
- 6,618 deaths involved drivers with BAC of .08% or higher
- 4,136 deaths involved drivers with BAC of .15% or higher
- 755 deaths involved drivers with BAC of .01 to .07%
- 229 deaths involved drivers with BAC under .01%
So most fatalities do correlate to high BAC levels, validating the .08% illegal per se limit across the country. But even small amounts of alcohol contribute to many crash deaths each year.
Demographic Data in Fatal Crashes
Analyzing drunk driving deaths by age and gender provides further insights. While men account for a larger overall percentage of alcohol-related fatalities, the rate of drunk driving deaths per 100,000 population is actually higher for women ages 16-20.
In 2019, the drunk driving death rate per 100,000 people was:
- Ages 16-20: 2.2 for men; 2.5 for women
- Ages 21-24: 8.3 for men; 2.2 for women
- Ages 25-34: 7.4 for men; 2.4 for women
- Ages 35+: 6.6 for men; 2.3 for women
So female teens and those under 21 have the highest chance of being involved in a deadly drunk driving crash on a proportional basis.
In terms of sheer numbers, adult men ages 21-45 account for the greatest number of drunk driving fatalities, simply because they drive more miles. From 1982 to 2019, men consistently comprised about 80% of drunk driving deaths.
By age, drunk driving deaths in 2019 occurred among:
- Ages 21-24: 1786 deaths
- Ages 25-34: 2505 deaths
- Ages 35-44: 1638 deaths
- Ages 45-54: 1351 deaths
- Ages 55-64: 659 deaths
The 21-34 demographic suffers the most drunk driving fatalities year after year. After age 64, deaths decline sharply. But across all age groups, hundreds to thousands of lives are lost annually due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes.
Deadliest Days and Times for DUI Crashes
According to decades of data, drunk driving fatalities occur disproportionately:
- At night – 6 pm to 5:59 am account for 78% of drunk driving deaths. Midnight to 2:59 am is the deadliest time period.
- On weekends – More than 50% of drunk driving fatalities happen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- In warmer months – July and August consistently have the most fatalities, about 1000 deaths each per month. Fatalities are fewest in January.
- On holidays – Over Christmas and New Year’s, drunk driving deaths spike to between 300-400 per week nationally. The 4th of July and Labor Day weekends are also highly dangerous, with up to 200 deaths per holiday period.
So late nights, weekends, summers, and holidays are proven to be riskiest times for impaired driving fatalities every year.
Geographic Breakdown of Fatal Crashes
In terms of locations, some U.S. states suffer disproportionate shares of drunk driving fatalities:
- Texas – Ranked #1 for most drunk driving deaths annually from 2003-2018.
- California – Around 1,000 alcohol-impaired crash deaths per year, also topping the list.
- Florida – Approximately 800 fatalities per year, landing it in the top states.
- North Carolina – Around 400 annual deaths and high fatality rate relative to population.
- South Carolina – 300-400 drunk driving deaths yearly and very high proportional fatality rates.
- Mississippi – Among the worst in fatalities per miles driven, with about 230 deaths per year.
Rural areas in general have higher drunk driving death rates with their two-lane undivided highways and lack of public transit options. Urban areas see more total deaths from sheer traffic volumes. But impairments are especially dangerous on high-speed rural roads.
Progress in Reducing Deaths
While drunk driving fatalities are still tragically high, progress has been made through a combination of approaches:
- Tougher DUI/DWI laws and enforcement nationally
- Increased use of sobriety checkpoints by law enforcement
- Legal blood alcohol limits reduced to .08% across the country
- Mandatory jail time and license suspensions for DUI/DWI convictions
- Raising the minimum legal drinking age nationally to 21
- Zero tolerance laws enacted for drivers under 21
- Alcohol safety public awareness campaigns
- Advancements in alcohol addiction treatment options
Thanks to coordinated efforts on many fronts, drunk driving deaths have fallen by about 15,000 since 1982. But more work remains to curb dangerous impaired driving. Continuing to implement proven countermeasures and evolving technology can help save thousands more lives in the future.
In summary, drunk driving statistics paint a vivid picture of key high-risk demographics, times of day, days of week, holidays, states, and more for alcohol-involved fatal crashes. Analyzing the data guides strategic allocation of safety resources where they are needed most. Sustained efforts combining education, enforcement, regulation and technology can continue driving drunk driving deaths down to zero.