While impaired driving deaths remain stubbornly high, it is not for lack of awareness about the problem. The dangers of drinking and driving have been part of the public consciousness for decades. In contrast, little attention has been paid to the large numbers of alcohol-impaired pedestrians and bicyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes.
The proportion of fatally injured pedestrians and bicyclists who were impaired by alcohol has changed little during the past two decades, a recent IIHS analysis found. The percentage of fatally injured pedestrians ages 16 and older with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.08 percent or higher was 39 percent in 1992 and 37 percent in 2011. Among fatally injured bicyclists, the percentage was 26 percent in 1992 and 25 percent in 2011.
Overall pedestrian deaths among people 16 and older fell steadily during the study period, with the exception of a slight increase after 2009. At 4,152, they were 12 percent lower in 2011 than in 1992. During the same period, deaths of bicyclists in that age group rose 45 percent to 608.
Previous studies have shown that alcohol-impaired pedestrians and bicyclists behave in ways that raise their risk of being killed or seriously injured in a crash. Pedestrians injured in crashes are more likely to have crossed against the light, midblock or in other dangerous manners if impaired, one study found. Bicyclists involved in crashes are less likely to be wearing helmets if they have been drinking. Judging gaps in traffic is more difficult under the influence of alcohol.
IIHS researchers focused on the last five years of the study period to determine characteristics of alcohol-impaired pedestrians and bicyclists. They found the proportion of fatally injured pedestrians with BACs of 0.08 percent or higher was highest among males and among pedestrians ages 21-49. People killed at night were more likely to be impaired. Among those killed in the midnight to 3 a.m. window, 60 percent had BACs of 0.08 percent or higher and 47 percent had BACs of 0.15 percent or higher. The trends were similar for bicyclists, with males more likely than females to be impaired, and impairment more likely at night. The peak age range for impairment among fatally injured bicyclists was 30-49.