Each year, thousands of people lose their lives due to motor vehicle accidents involving an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2020 alone, there were over 11,000 fatalities where at least one driver was alcohol-impaired, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases when you consume alcoholic drinks. When it reaches 0.08 or more, you become alcohol-impaired. MoneyGeek explored drunk driving statistics and the trends over time by age, sex, driving condition (e.g., time of day and weather) and state.
Total Fatalities from Drunk Driving
The consequences of drunk driving are significant. Not only is it a major traffic violation, but the worst-case (and probable) scenario is death.
Since 2011, motor vehicle deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers have usually been below 11,000 per year. 2022 was the first instance when it exceeded that count.
Another instance of increased fatalities, by 6.68%, occurred in 2016. Since then, you'll notice numbers declined for three consecutive years — with 2019 having the most significant decrease of 4.80%. However, 2020 saw a historic 14.3% increase.
One important thing to note is that not all fatalities involved drivers, although they made up 62% of the population. Out of over 11,000 deaths, 13% were passengers of drunk drivers.
If you're wondering where the remaining 25% went, it consisted of those who weren't in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver. Some were drivers or passengers of other cars (14%), while others (11%) were nonoccupants — pedestrians and cyclists, among others.
Age of Drunk Drivers
Are drivers of certain ages more likely to engage in drunk driving? Any individual of any age can make the poor judgement call of drunk driving. However, drunk driving statistics show that alcohol-impaired drivers within some age groups have been involved in more traffic accidents resulting in death.
The number of drivers involved in fatal accidents varied between age groups. According to NHTSA data in 2020, the three with the highest counts were 25 to 34 (11,933), 35 to 44 (8,896) and 45 to 54 (7,731). Together, these three brackets made up over half of the alcohol-impaired drivers.
Looking at how many fatal accidents occurred compared to the total number of alcohol-impaired drivers on the road, the groups with the highest percentages were:
- 21 to 24: 26%
- 25 to 34: 26%
- 35 to 44: 23%
Remember, the figures above refer to alcohol-impaired drivers in fatal accidents, including those who survived their passengers or other parties involved.
Drunk Drivers by Sex
MoneyGeek’s deep dive into drunk driving statistics covered the differences between males and females in 2020. It’s crucial to note that figures include all traffic accident outcomes, including survivals and deaths.
Out of the total number of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2020, about a fifth were females. That's 2,088 women. The remaining 77% (8,482) were male.
One could allude that it's because more males drive than females — and that's true. In 2020, a total of 53,890 drivers were involved in fatal crashes. Around three-quarters were male.
However, another factor is that males are more likely to engage in risky driving behavior, one of which is driving while impaired by alcohol.
Vehicle Types Involved
MoneyGeek’s drunk driving statistics go beyond age and gender. Also explored were the vehicle types involved in these alcohol-related road collisions.
The table below shows the vehicles that contributed to the overall number in 2020.
Numbers show that alcohol-impaired drivers drive all types of vehicles. These fall into four categories: passenger cars, light trucks, motorcycles and large trucks.
Passenger cars had the highest count at 4,726. Followed by light trucks, with 3,917. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) segregated the vehicles under light trucks as follows:
- Pickups: 1,883
- SUVs: 1,806
- Vans: 214
- Other/Unknown: 14
However, if you compare the number of vehicles used by alcohol-impaired drivers to the total count of those involved in fatal accidents, motorcycle accidents outweighed the others.
Of the 5,711 bikers involved in deadly crashes, 1,526 involved alcohol-impaired drivers — that's 27%. Only 23% of all passenger cars had a drunk driver behind the wheel.
Drunk Drivers by State
Thirty percent of all traffic fatalities in 2020 involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Some states have higher numbers than others. MoneyGeek’s heatmap provides a visual of drunk driving statistics per state.
Areas with more counts of drunk driving deaths have darker shades. Those with lighter hues indicate fewer fatalities.
The number of fatal crashes involving drunk driving varies between states. In 2020, Texas and California had the highest counts, each having more than a thousand. The five states that topped the list were as follows:
- Texas: 1,495
- California: 1,159
- Florida: 871
- North Carolina: 454
- Ohio: 448
Vermont, Alaska and the District of Columbia had the fewest, with 18, 14 and 7, respectively.
Twenty-one states had ratios higher than the national average. Those with the highest percentages were:
Montana: 45% (96 out of 213) Rhode Island: 42% (28 out of 67) Connecticut: 40% (118 out of 295)
The District of Columbia, Utah and Mississippi were at the bottom, with only 21% of motor vehicle fatalities involving a drunk driver.
Frequent Accident Environments
The number of traffic fatalities involving an alcohol-impaired driver varies between road environments. Some roads are more dangerous than others.
Almost 60% of drunk driving deaths happened in urban areas. The 2020 drunk driving statistics show the differences between specific locations.
If you’re unfamiliar with the terms in the visual, use the table below to learn more about the different road systems.
- Functional SystemDescription
- InterstatesInterstates allow for mobility and long-distance travel. They typically connect major urban areas in the U.S. The Secretary of State assigns the interstate status to roadways that meet these objectives.
- Non-interstate Principal ArterialWhile interstates provide mobility between major urban areas, principal arterials serve the same function but within a metropolis and, to some degree, rural areas. The main distinction is that there are several arterial routes in urban areas, while you'll only find one in rural locations.
- Non-interstate Minor ArterialMinor arterials are roads meant for traveling moderate distances. They're typically used to link communities, which is why bus routes usually run along them. In rural areas, they're typically the roads that connect larger and more populated towns to cities.
- Non-interstate CollectorCollector roads funnel traffic from local roads to the arterial system (minor and major arterials). Instead of providing interstate travel, these allow inter-county movement to occur. You can expect a shorter travel distance when using Collector roads. You'll also be traveling at more moderate speeds.
- Non-interstate LocalBased on mileage, local roads have the most because all roadways that do not fall under the previously mentioned classifications belong here. These typically have access to abutting land, so they're not meant for long-distance travel. However, motorists should have access to them all year since they are considered public roads.
Frequent Accident Weather and Light Conditions
Drunk driving deaths vary based on location and driving conditions, which include the weather. Additionally, MoneyGeek’s drunk driving statistics look at the frequency of incidents at different times of the day.
One would think there would be more deaths when roads are slippery, but numbers show that isn't the case. A whopping 91% of all alcohol-impaired fatal motor vehicle accidents happened when the weather was clear or cloudy.
There's also a difference in the number of incidents during varying light conditions. Dawn and dusk were the least likely times — only 1% and 3% of drunk driving deaths occurred during these conditions.
Considering almost 70% of drunk driving fatal accidents happen when it's dark, knowing how to drive safely at night becomes essential.
Drunk Driver Statistics FAQ
Drunk driving statistics reinforce how imperative driving sober is for operating a vehicle safely. MoneyGeek gathered the most commonly asked questions about alcohol-impaired driving to provide more information.
Drunk driving is only one of the risky driving behaviors people engage in when behind the wheel. Others include speeding, driving while distracted and driving while tired. Here are online resources that may help you explore these areas further.
- 2022’s Most Dangerous Days for DUIs: Read about when drunk driving is observed more often during the year, making these periods more dangerous for motorists.
- Top States in the U.S. With the Worst Drivers: Drivers can engage in hazardous driving behaviors, such as drunk or distracted driving. This page shows which states have the safest and worst drivers.
- The High Toll of Distracted Driving and Staying Safe on the Road: Another dangerous driving behavior is distracted driving. MoneyGeek’s page explores its impact on motor vehicle deaths and shares strategies to remain safe.
- How to Handle the Aftermath of a Car Accident and Negotiate Insurance: Whether or not there are any fatalities, being involved in a car collision is traumatic. See how you can navigate this stressful situation.
- The Best and Cheapest Car Insurance for High-Risk Drivers: Finding affordable auto insurance may be challenging if you have tickets, at-fault accidents or DUIs on your record. However, it’s still possible. Here are MoneyGeek’s recommendations.
About Angelique Cruz
- National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. "Traffic Safety Facts — 2020 Data." Accessed December 12, 2022.
- IIHS HLDI. "Fatality Facts 2020 — Males and Females." Accessed December 12, 2022.
- National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. "Persons Killed, by STATE and Highest Driver Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in Crash - State : USA, Year : 2020." Accessed December 23, 2022.