Alcohol | 2005

Progress has been made during the past 20 years to reduce the proportion of fatally injured drivers with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent. Proportions are lower in all age groups and among drivers of passenger vehicles, tractor-trailers, and motorcycles. There also has been a substantial decline among those with very high BACs (at or above 0.15 percent), who often are assumed to be "hard-core" drinking drivers. However, progress has stalled in recent years and alcohol-impaired driving is still a major problem.

All states now have enacted a law defining impairment as driving with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent. All states also have "zero tolerance" laws that prohibit people younger than 21 from driving after drinking. Typically, these laws prohibit driving with a BAC of 0.02 percent or greater. A BAC as low as 0.02 percent has been shown to affect driving ability. The probability of a fatal crash rises significantly after 0.05 percent BAC and even more rapidly after about 0.08 percent. Among drivers age 35 and older with BACs at or above 0.15 percent on weekend nights, the likelihood of dying in a single-vehicle crash is 382 times higher than it is for nondrinking drivers. Zador, P.L.; Krawchuck, S.; and Voas, R.B. 2000. Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 61:387-96.

The information in this fact sheet is based on data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia with imputations for missing BACs provided by the US Department of Transportation's multiple imputation model. Subramanian, R. 2002. Transitioning to multiple imputation — a new method to impute missing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) values in FARS. Report no. DOT HS-809-403. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Trends

The percentage of fatally injured motor vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from the 1980s to the mid-1990s. Since then little progress has been made. The proportion of fatally injured pedestrians with BACs at or above 0.08 percent hasn't declined as much. Since 1997 about a third of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers have had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. The group of drivers with the lowest proportion was tractor-trailer drivers (2 percent).

Percent of fatally injured people with BACs≥ 0.08 percent by type, 1982-2005

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent, 1982-2005
Year All drivers Passenger vehicle drivers Tractor-trailer drivers Motorcycle drivers Pedestrians (age ≥ 16)
Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
1982 24,690 12,139 49 19,663 10,023 51 600 97 16 3,723 1,810 49 5,993 2,668 45
1983 24,138 11,543 48 19,337 9,529 49 615 83 13 3,592 1,783 50 5,582 2,486 45
1984 25,589 11,499 45 20,298 9,378 46 720 90 13 3,896 1,834 47 5,755 2,439 42
1985 25,337 10,685 42 20,057 8,674 43 632 69 11 3,896 1,756 45 5,539 2,263 41
1986 26,630 11,409 43 21,503 9,396 44 589 45 8 3,790 1,772 47 5,547 2,242 40
1987 26,833 11,058 41 22,157 9,343 42 559 40 7 3,409 1,499 44 5,597 2,176 39
1988 27,253 11,103 41 22,884 9,580 42 614 52 8 3,139 1,338 43 5,701 2,162 38
1989 26,389 10,637 40 22,554 9,200 41 546 54 10 2,682 1,233 46 5,557 2,186 39
1990 25,750 10,395 40 21,953 8,973 41 436 39 9 2,790 1,235 44 5,488 2,137 39
1991 23,930 9,485 40 20,551 8,242 40 407 28 7 2,404 1,059 44 4,880 1,895 39
1992 22,584 8,452 37 19,573 7,434 38 369 18 5 2,079 873 42 4,734 1,861 39
1993 23,142 8,322 36 20,036 7,328 37 383 17 4 2,120 825 39 4,740 1,856 39
1994 23,691 7,913 33 20,644 7,083 34 388 23 6 1,995 663 33 4,637 1,718 37
1995 24,390 8,307 34 21,456 7,488 35 400 21 5 1,939 664 34 4,783 1,793 37
1996 24,534 8,175 33 21,631 7,336 34 384 20 5 1,881 683 36 4,670 1,804 39
1997 24,667 7,843 32 21,702 7,062 33 427 13 3 1,878 622 33 4,621 1,638 35
1998 24,743 7,834 32 21,627 6,944 32 441 20 4 2,026 716 35 4,597 1,678 37
1999 25,257 7,918 31 21,899 6,994 32 471 14 3 2,223 736 33 4,325 1,646 38
2000 25,567 8,166 32 21,819 7,127 33 457 14 3 2,591 847 33 4,192 1,534 37
2001 25,869 8,252 32 21,862 7,205 33 414 12 3 2,886 853 30 4,368 1,558 36
2002 26,659 8,515 32 22,537 7,381 33 409 25 6 2,952 940 32 4,367 1,584 36
2003 26,779 8,354 31 22,200 7,120 32 435 17 4 3,358 1,010 30 4,298 1,560 36
2004 26,871 8,155 30 21,952 6,952 32 440 14 3 3,593 995 28 4,237 1,528 36
2005 27,472 8,515 31 21,880 7,117 33 481 11 2 4,122 1,124 27 4,431 1,524 34

The percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.15 percent has declined 37 percent since 1982 but with little change since 1997. The proportion of driver deaths involving BACs at or above 0.15 percent in 2005 was 24 percent for passenger vehicles and 16 percent for motorcycles. A higher percentage of pedestrians (27 percent) had BACs at or above 0.15 percent than any group of drivers. 

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.15 percent, 1982-2005
Year All drivers Passenger vehicle drivers Tractor-trailer drivers Motorcycle drivers Pedestrians (age ≥ 16)
Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15 Deaths Estimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
1982 24,690 8,660 35 19,663 7,328 37 600 59 10 3,723 1,136 30 5,993 2,077 35
1983 24,138 8,240 34 19,337 6,969 36 615 57 9 3,592 1,115 31 5,582 1,945 35
1984 25,589 8,203 32 20,298 6,864 34 720 59 8 3,896 1,136 29 5,755 1,886 33
1985 25,337 7,521 30 20,057 6,269 31 632 44 7 3,896 1,085 28 5,539 1,732 31
1986 26,630 8,077 30 21,503 6,783 32 589 26 4 3,790 1,144 30 5,547 1,730 31
1987 26,833 7,968 30 22,157 6,854 31 559 23 4 3,409 966 28 5,597 1,735 31
1988 27,253 8,114 30 22,884 7,126 31 614 32 5 3,139 862 27 5,701 1,688 30
1989 26,389 7,774 29 22,554 6,847 30 546 39 7 2,682 791 29 5,557 1,706 31
1990 25,750 7,631 30 21,953 6,670 30 436 24 6 2,790 824 30 5,488 1,697 31
1991 23,930 7,014 29 20,551 6,192 30 407 20 5 2,404 697 29 4,880 1,512 31
1992 22,584 6,258 28 19,573 5,569 28 369 12 3 2,079 590 28 4,734 1,474 31
1993 23,142 6,104 26 20,036 5,494 27 383 10 2 2,120 505 24 4,740 1,499 32
1994 23,691 5,849 25 20,644 5,326 26 388 17 4 1,995 411 21 4,637 1,355 29
1995 24,390 6,018 25 21,456 5,495 26 400 11 3 1,939 415 21 4,783 1,394 29
1996 24,534 5,925 24 21,631 5,383 25 384 14 4 1,881 440 23 4,670 1,433 31
1997 24,667 5,668 23 21,702 5,158 24 427 11 2 1,878 400 21 4,621 1,329 29
1998 24,743 5,692 23 21,627 5,127 24 441 15 3 2,026 449 22 4,597 1,332 29
1999 25,257 5,678 22 21,899 5,108 23 471 10 2 2,223 440 20 4,325 1,292 30
2000 25,567 5,801 23 21,819 5,138 24 457 4 1 2,591 539 21 4,192 1,204 29
2001 25,869 5,976 23 21,862 5,328 24 414 10 2 2,886 522 18 4,368 1,232 28
2002 26,659 6,146 23 22,537 5,463 24 409 15 4 2,952 564 19 4,367 1,267 29
2003 26,779 6,010 22 22,200 5,258 24 435 11 3 3,358 609 18 4,298 1,254 29
2004 26,871 5,837 22 21,952 5,089 23 440 9 2 3,593 614 17 4,237 1,195 28
2005 27,472 6,092 22 21,880 5,231 24 481 7 1 4,122 670 16 4,431 1,203 27

Age and gender

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2005, a higher proportion of males than females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent at every age. Overall 38 percent of males and 19 percent of females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. The percentage was highest among males ages 21-40.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age and gender, 2005
Age Male Female Total*
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
0-15 51 12 24 25 5 18 76 17 22
16-20 2,125 618 29 853 125 15 2,978 743 25
21-30 3,830 2,141 56 1,210 362 30 5,040 2,502 50
31-40 2,395 1,217 51 955 293 31 3,350 1,510 45
41-50 2,353 1,026 44 1,009 273 27 3,362 1,298 39
51-60 1,774 531 30 816 102 12 2,590 633 24
61-70 1,183 216 18 610 40 7 1,793 257 14
> 70 1,789 115 6 881 28 3 2,671 143 5
Total* 15,517 5,887 38 6,360 1,228 19 21,880 7,117 33
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2005, 28 percent of males and 14 percent of females had BACs at or above 0.15 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.15 percent by driver age and gender, 2005
Age Male Female Total*
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
0-15 51 6 13 25 1 6 76 8 10
16-20 2,125 382 18 853 77 9 2,978 459 15
21-30 3,830 1,553 41 1,210 250 21 5,040 1,803 36
31-40 2,395 968 40 955 217 23 3,350 1,185 35
41-50 2,353 798 34 1,009 210 21 3,362 1,008 30
51-60 1,774 409 23 816 74 9 2,590 483 19
61-70 1,183 165 14 610 28 5 1,793 193 11
> 70 1,789 66 4 881 16 2 2,671 82 3
Total* 15,517 4,356 28 6,360 874 14 21,880 5,231 24
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Since the 1980s the proportion of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined more among 16-20 year-olds than among older drivers, but these declines ended in 1995.

Percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2005

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2005
Year 16-20 21-30 >30
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
Num Num % Num Num % Num Num %
1982 3,456 1,826 53 6,243 3,948 63 9,861 4,208 43
1983 3,326 1,681 51 6,053 3,859 64 9,844 3,943 40
1984 3,441 1,595 46 6,411 3,885 61 10,337 3,860 37
1985 3,227 1,260 39 6,262 3,659 58 10,441 3,713 36
1986 3,636 1,495 41 6,695 3,974 59 11,042 3,887 35
1987 3,630 1,315 36 6,802 3,975 58 11,579 4,016 35
1988 3,788 1,358 36 6,819 3,991 59 12,145 4,203 35
1989 3,536 1,225 35 6,475 3,675 57 12,401 4,272 34
1990 3,397 1,198 35 6,152 3,510 57 12,274 4,238 35
1991 3,021 1,044 35 5,623 3,183 57 11,801 3,993 34
1992 2,697 829 31 5,122 2,759 54 11,639 3,823 33
1993 2,805 795 28 5,065 2,658 52 12,038 3,851 32
1994 2,990 800 27 4,975 2,484 50 12,522 3,771 30
1995 2,983 725 24 5,081 2,585 51 13,246 4,155 31
1996 3,026 769 25 4,989 2,475 50 13,478 4,070 30
1997 3,034 773 25 4,772 2,272 48 13,773 4,001 29
1998 3,094 767 25 4,577 2,222 49 13,839 3,930 28
1999 3,261 849 26 4,653 2,260 49 13,870 3,866 28
2000 3,250 844 26 4,706 2,268 48 13,743 3,997 29
2001 3,247 823 25 4,735 2,358 50 13,790 4,005 29
2002 3,452 873 25 4,938 2,462 50 14,006 4,020 29
2003 3,260 858 26 4,852 2,308 48 13,957 3,930 28
2004 3,175 815 26 4,970 2,372 48 13,689 3,743 27
2005 2,978 743 25 5,040 2,502 50 13,766 3,842 28

When alcohol-impaired crashed occurred

Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes peaks at night. Between 9pm and 6am, 58 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2005 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 19 percent during other hours.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs at night vs. other times, 2005
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
9pm-6am 7,716 4,493 58 3,342 43
Other hours 14,164 2,624 19 1,889 13
Total 21,880 7,117 33 5,231 24
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers
with high BACs by time of day, 2005
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Midnight-3am 2,945 2,001 68 1,500 51
3am-6am 1,934 1,003 52 705 36
6am-9am 2,470 310 13 203 8
9am-noon 2,277 194 9 128 6
Noon-3pm 2,929 321 11 237 8
3pm-6pm 3,452 646 19 457 13
6pm-9pm 2,829 1,029 36 771 27
9pm-midnight 2,837 1,490 53 1,138 40
Total* 21,880 7,117 33 5,231 24
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-five percent of passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured on weekends (6pm Friday to 6am Monday) in 2005 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 24 percent at other times.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by weekend vs. other times, 2005
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Weekend 8,768 3,935 45 2,908 33
Other times 13,112 3,181 24 2,323 18
Total 21,880 7,117 33 5,231 24

Alcohol involvement is highest in nighttime (9pm to 6am) single-vehicle crashes, in which 66 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2005 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. Only 28 percent of the fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers involved in nighttime single-vehicle crashes had no alcohol in their blood. Changes in nighttime single-vehicle crashes often are used to measure the changing role of alcohol in highway crashes and crash deaths.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers by BAC, time, and crash type, 2005
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs = 0 Estimated drivers killed with 0.01≤ BACs ≤ 0.07 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num % Num % Num %
Single vehicle Night 5,178 1,457 28 284 5 3,437 66 2,567 50
Day 5,499 3,619 66 234 4 1,646 30 1,213 22
Multiple vehicle Night 2,531 1,344 53 135 5 1,052 42 771 30
Day 8,455 7,329 87 274 3 852 10 582 7

References