Impaired Driving: Get the Facts

On this Page

  • How big is the problem?
  • Who is most at risk?
  • A Closer Look – Terminology
  • How can deaths and injuries from impaired driving be prevented?
  • Effects of blood alcohol concentration (BAC)
  • What safety steps can individuals take?
  • Social Media Resources for Sharing
  • CDC Vital Signs
  • References

Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes.1  The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $59 billion.2

Thankfully, there are effective measures that can help prevent injuries and deaths from alcohol-impaired driving.

How big is the problem?

  • In 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.1
  • Of the 1,149 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2013, 200 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.1
  • Of the 200 child passengers ages 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2013, over half (121) were riding in the vehicle with the alcohol-impaired driver.1
  • In 2012, over 1.3 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.3 That’s one percent of the 121 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.4
  • Drugs other than alcohol (e.g., marijuana and cocaine) are involved in about 18% of motor vehicle driver deaths. These other drugs are often used in combination with alcohol.5


Who is most at risk?

Young people:

  • At all levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC), the risk of being involved in a crash is greater for young people than for older people.6
  • Among drivers with BAC levels of 0.08 % or higher involved in fatal crashes in 2013, one out of every 3 were between 21 and 24 years of age (33%). The next two largest groups were ages 25 to 34 (29%) and 35 to 44 (24%).1


  • Among motorcyclists killed in fatal crashes in 2013, 27% had BACs of 0.08% or greater.1
  • Nearly half of the alcohol-impaired motorcyclists killed each year are age 40 or older, and motorcyclists ages 40-44 have the highest percentage of deaths with BACs of 0.08% or greater (44%).7

Drivers with prior driving while impaired (DWI) convictions:

  • Drivers with a BAC of 0.08% or higher involved in fatal crashes were six times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than were drivers with no alcohol in their system. (6% and 1%, respectively).1


A Closer Look – Terminology

Sobriety checkpoints:

Traffic stops where law enforcement officers assess drivers’ level of alcohol impairment. These checkpoints consistently reduce alcohol-related crashes, typically by 9%.

Ignition interlocks:

Devices that are installed in the vehicles of people who have been convicted of driving while impaired. They prevent operation of the vehicle by anyone with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above a specified safe level (usually 0.02% – 0.04%). When installed, interlocks are associated with about a 70% reduction in arrest rates for impaired driving.


How can deaths and injuries from impaired driving be prevented?

Effective measures include:

  • Actively enforcing existing 0.08% BAC laws, minimum legal drinking age laws, and zero tolerance laws for drivers younger than 21 years old in all states.3,8,9
  • Promptly taking away the driver’s licenses of people who drive while intoxicated.10
  • Using sobriety checkpoints.11
  • Putting health promotion efforts into practice that influence economic, organizational, policy, and school/community action.12,13
  • Using community-based approaches to alcohol control and DWI prevention.10,14,15
  • Requiring mandatory substance abuse assessment and treatment, if needed, for DWI offenders.16
  • Raising the unit price of alcohol by increasing taxes.17,18

Areas for continued research:

  • Reducing the illegal BAC threshold  to 0.05%.17,19,20
  • Mandatory blood alcohol testing when traffic crashes result in injury.17


Effects of Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

BAC Levels chartThe more alcohol you consume, the more impaired you become.

Learn how your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) affects your ability to drive.

What safety steps can individuals take?

Whenever your social plans involve alcohol, make plans so that you don’t have to drive after drinking. For example:

  • Prior to any drinking, designate a non-drinking driver when with a group.
  • Don’t let your friends drive impaired. Take their keys away.
  • If you have been drinking, get a ride home or call a taxi.
  • If you’re hosting a party where alcohol will be served, remind your guests to plan ahead and designate their sober driver; offer alcohol-free beverages; and make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.