Alcohol | 2009

The probability of a fatal crash rises significantly after 0.05 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and even more rapidly after 0.08 percent. 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: an update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 61:387-95. Drivers with very high BACs (at or above 0.15 percent) have a very high risk of dying in a crash or getting severely injured. 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: an update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 61:387-95. , Peck, R.C.; Gebers, M.A.; Voas, R.B.; and Romano, E. 2008. The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research 39:311-19. All states have enacted a law defining impairment as driving with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent.

Progress has been made during the past 30 years to reduce the numbers and proportion of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent. Since 1982, there has been a 42 percent decline in the number of passenger vehicle drivers killed in crashes who had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. 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, little progress has been made since the mid-1990s and alcohol-impaired driving is still a major problem. In 2005, Institute research estimated that 8,916 deaths would have been prevented if all drivers on the road had BACs below 0.08 percent. Lund, A.K.; McCartt, A.T.; and Farmer, C.M. 2007. Contribution of alcohol-impaired driving to motor vehicle crash deaths in 2005. Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety (CD-ROM). Oslo, Norway: International Council on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety. Applying the same methods yields an estimate of 7,440 preventable driver deaths if BACs were below 0.08 percent in 2009.

Drivers younger than 21 are more vulnerable than older drivers to the impairing effects of alcohol. At the same BAC, young drivers are far more likely to get into a fatal or nonfatal crash. 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: an update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol 61:387-95. , Peck, R.C.; Gebers, M.A.; Voas, R.B.; and Romano, E. 2008. The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research 39:311-19. The minimum drinking age is 21 throughout the United States. In addition, all states 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. In recent years, drivers younger than 21 killed in crashes are about half as likely as fatally injured drivers ages 21-30 to have a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher.

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 U.S. 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: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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 drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from 49 percent in 1982 to 33 percent in 1994 (a 32 percent decline). About a third of fatally injured drivers have had BACs of 0.08 percent or above since 1994. Among drivers and pedestrians killed in crashes in 2009, drivers of large trucks had the lowest proportion of BACs at or above 0.08 percent (4 percent) and pedestrians ages 16 and older had the highest proportion (37 percent). Between 2008 and 2009, the number of deaths among passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined by 7 percent, consistent with the overall 8 percent decline in passenger vehicle driver deaths during 2009.

Percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by type, 1982-2009

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent, 1982-2009
Year All drivers Passenger vehicle drivers Large truck 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 19,664 10,024 51 735 123 17 3,723 1,810 49 5,993 2,668 45
1983 24,138 11,543 48 19,338 9,529 49 767 115 15 3,592 1,783 50 5,582 2,486 45
1984 25,589 11,499 45 20,299 9,378 46 859 107 12 3,896 1,834 47 5,755 2,439 42
1985 25,337 10,685 42 20,057 8,674 43 775 84 11 3,896 1,756 45 5,539 2,263 41
1986 26,630 11,409 43 21,503 9,396 44 736 58 8 3,790 1,772 47 5,547 2,242 40
1987 26,833 11,058 41 22,157 9,343 42 686 53 8 3,409 1,499 44 5,597 2,176 39
1988 27,253 11,103 41 22,884 9,580 42 743 66 9 3,139 1,338 43 5,701 2,162 38
1989 26,389 10,637 40 22,554 9,200 41 681 68 10 2,682 1,233 46 5,557 2,186 39
1990 25,750 10,395 40 21,953 8,973 41 570 50 9 2,790 1,235 44 5,488 2,137 39
1991 23,930 9,485 40 20,551 8,242 40 550 39 7 2,404 1,059 44 4,880 1,895 39
1992 22,584 8,452 37 19,573 7,434 38 506 26 5 2,079 873 42 4,734 1,861 39
1993 23,142 8,322 36 20,036 7,328 37 504 26 5 2,120 825 39 4,740 1,856 39
1994 23,691 7,913 33 20,647 7,083 34 545 36 7 1,995 663 33 4,637 1,718 37
1995 24,390 8,307 34 21,456 7,488 35 546 31 6 1,939 664 34 4,783 1,793 37
1996 24,534 8,175 33 21,631 7,336 34 525 34 6 1,881 683 36 4,670 1,804 39
1997 24,667 7,843 32 21,711 7,069 33 616 19 3 1,878 622 33 4,621 1,638 35
1998 24,743 7,834 32 21,627 6,944 32 628 30 5 2,026 716 35 4,597 1,678 37
1999 25,257 7,918 31 21,899 6,994 32 631 28 4 2,223 736 33 4,325 1,646 38
2000 25,567 8,166 32 21,819 7,127 33 641 28 4 2,591 847 33 4,192 1,534 37
2001 25,869 8,252 32 21,862 7,205 33 591 22 4 2,886 853 30 4,368 1,558 36
2002 26,659 8,515 32 22,537 7,381 33 582 38 7 2,952 940 32 4,367 1,584 36
2003 26,779 8,354 31 22,200 7,120 32 608 23 4 3,358 1,010 30 4,298 1,560 36
2004 26,871 8,155 30 21,952 6,952 32 624 24 4 3,593 995 28 4,237 1,528 36
2005 27,491 8,489 31 21,953 7,104 32 663 22 3 4,142 1,141 28 4,458 1,559 35
2006 27,348 8,578 31 21,592 7,164 33 678 30 4 4,387 1,179 27 4,384 1,656 38
2007 26,570 8,617 32 20,542 7,057 34 663 17 3 4,740 1,328 28 4,305 1,587 37
2008 24,254 7,961 33 18,266 6,280 34 534 19 4 4,782 1,436 30 4,069 1,545 38
2009 21,798 7,281 33 16,791 5,861 35 407 16 4 3,982 1,184 30 3,794 1,402 37

The percentage of fatally injured drivers with BACs of 0.15 percent or higher has declined 32 percent since 1982 but with little change since 1996. Twenty-six percent of passenger vehicle drivers killed in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.15 percent compared with 18 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers. A higher percentage of pedestrians (29 percent) killed in crashes had BACs at or above 0.15 percent than did any group of drivers.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured people with BACs ≥ 0.15 percent, 1982-2009
Year All drivers Passenger vehicle drivers Large truck 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 19,664 7,328 37 735 75 10 3,723 1,136 30 5,993 2,077 35
1983 24,138 8,240 34 19,338 6,969 36 767 79 10 3,592 1,115 31 5,582 1,945 35
1984 25,589 8,203 32 20,299 6,864 34 859 70 8 3,896 1,136 29 5,755 1,886 33
1985 25,337 7,521 30 20,057 6,269 31 775 55 7 3,896 1,085 28 5,539 1,732 31
1986 26,630 8,077 30 21,503 6,783 32 736 34 5 3,790 1,144 30 5,547 1,730 31
1987 26,833 7,968 30 22,157 6,854 31 686 34 5 3,409 966 28 5,597 1,735 31
1988 27,253 8,114 30 22,884 7,126 31 743 45 6 3,139 862 27 5,701 1,688 30
1989 26,389 7,774 29 22,554 6,847 30 681 49 7 2,682 791 29 5,557 1,706 31
1990 25,750 7,631 30 21,953 6,670 30 570 32 6 2,790 824 30 5,488 1,697 31
1991 23,930 7,014 29 20,551 6,192 30 550 24 4 2,404 697 29 4,880 1,512 31
1992 22,584 6,258 28 19,573 5,569 28 506 17 3 2,079 590 28 4,734 1,474 31
1993 23,142 6,104 26 20,036 5,494 27 504 14 3 2,120 505 24 4,740 1,499 32
1994 23,691 5,849 25 20,647 5,326 26 545 27 5 1,995 411 21 4,637 1,355 29
1995 24,390 6,018 25 21,456 5,495 26 546 19 3 1,939 415 21 4,783 1,394 29
1996 24,534 5,925 24 21,631 5,383 25 525 18 4 1,881 440 23 4,670 1,433 31
1997 24,667 5,668 23 21,711 5,164 24 616 14 2 1,878 400 21 4,621 1,329 29
1998 24,743 5,692 23 21,627 5,127 24 628 23 4 2,026 449 22 4,597 1,332 29
1999 25,257 5,678 22 21,899 5,108 23 631 22 3 2,223 440 20 4,325 1,292 30
2000 25,567 5,801 23 21,819 5,138 24 641 10 2 2,591 539 21 4,192 1,204 29
2001 25,869 5,976 23 21,862 5,328 24 591 17 3 2,886 522 18 4,368 1,232 28
2002 26,659 6,146 23 22,537 5,463 24 582 23 4 2,952 564 19 4,367 1,267 29
2003 26,779 6,010 22 22,200 5,258 24 608 15 2 3,358 609 18 4,298 1,254 29
2004 26,871 5,837 22 21,952 5,089 23 624 16 2 3,593 614 17 4,237 1,195 28
2005 27,491 6,073 22 21,953 5,220 24 663 14 2 4,142 684 17 4,458 1,246 28
2006 27,348 6,101 22 21,592 5,248 24 678 18 3 4,387 698 16 4,384 1,324 30
2007 26,570 6,275 24 20,542 5,272 26 663 11 2 4,740 841 18 4,305 1,269 29
2008 24,254 5,844 24 18,266 4,792 26 534 13 3 4,782 891 19 4,069 1,243 31
2009 21,798 5,236 24 16,791 4,345 26 407 12 3 3,982 720 18 3,794 1,109 29

Age and gender

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2009, a higher proportion of males than females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent at almost every age. Overall 40 percent of males and 22 percent of females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. The percentages were highest among males ages 21-40. The lowest percentages were observed among drivers older than 70 among both men and women. Drivers younger than age 21 who were killed in crashes had far lower percentages of BACs of 0.08 percent or greater than drivers ages 21-30 who died: 30 percent versus 53 percent in 2009.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age and gender, 2009
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 %
< 16 25 4 14 14 2 16 39 6 15
16-20 1,413 492 35 627 117 19 2,040 609 30
21-30 2,892 1,678 58 969 362 37 3,862 2,041 53
31-40 1,724 922 53 672 218 32 2,396 1,140 48
41-50 1,892 907 48 720 218 30 2,612 1,125 43
51-60 1,488 499 34 670 99 15 2,158 598 28
61-70 1,047 202 19 464 30 7 1,511 232 15
> 70 1,415 82 6 750 23 3 2,165 105 5
Total* 11,902 4,788 40 4,887 1,071 22 16,791 5,861 35
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2009, 30 percent of males and 16 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, 2009
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 %
< 16 25 1 6 14 1 9 39 3 7
16-20 1,413 302 21 627 77 12 2,040 380 19
21-30 2,892 1,263 44 969 271 28 3,862 1,535 40
31-40 1,724 728 42 672 177 26 2,396 906 38
41-50 1,892 693 37 720 166 23 2,612 859 33
51-60 1,488 375 25 670 74 11 2,158 449 21
61-70 1,047 139 13 464 16 4 1,511 156 10
> 70 1,415 44 3 750 11 1 2,165 55 3
Total* 11,902 3,547 30 4,887 796 16 16,791 4,345 26
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Since the 1980s the percentage 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 declines leveled off. Among drivers age 30 or younger, there have been increases in the percentage with BACs at or above 0.08 percent during the past few years.

Percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2009

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2009
Year 16-20 years 21-30 years > 30 years
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 6,244 3,948 63 9,861 4,208 43
1983 3,326 1,681 51 6,053 3,859 64 9,845 3,943 40
1984 3,441 1,595 46 6,412 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 12,525 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 3,036 774 25 4,775 2,275 48 13,777 4,004 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 2,985 734 25 5,067 2,492 49 13,809 3,852 28
2006 3,020 831 28 5,159 2,535 49 13,321 3,779 28
2007 2,728 766 28 5,028 2,592 52 12,697 3,675 29
2008 2,292 626 27 4,388 2,327 53 11,528 3,308 29
2009 2,040 609 30 3,862 2,041 53 10,842 3,201 30

When alcohol-impaired crashes occur

Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes peaks at night. Between 9pm and 6am, 62 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 20 percent during other hours.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by nighttime vs. other times, 2009
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
9pm-6am 6,051 3,724 62 2,800 46
Other hours 10,740 2,136 20 1,545 14
Total 16,791 5,861 35 4,345 26

The 3-hour period with the highest percentage of driver fatalities with BACs of 0.08 percent or higher is midnight to 3am.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2009
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Midnight-3am 2,310 1,652 72 1,274 55
3am-6am 1,613 921 57 660 41
6am-9am 1,780 288 16 199 11
9am-Noon 1,792 156 9 110 6
Noon-3pm 2,227 259 12 183 8
3pm-6pm 2,609 510 20 371 14
6pm-9pm 2,179 836 38 614 28
9pm-midnight 2,128 1,152 54 865 41
Total* 16,791 5,861 35 4,345 26
*Total includes other and/or unknowns

Forty-eight percent of passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured on weekends (6pm Friday to 6am Monday) in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, compared with 26 percent at other times.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by weekend vs. other times, 2009
  Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Num Num % Num %
Weekend (6pm Friday to 6am Monday) 6,698 3,202 48 2,370 35
Other times 10,093 2,659 26 1,975 20
Total 16,791 5,861 35 4,345 26

Alcohol involvement is very high in nighttime (9 pm to 6 am) single-vehicle crashes, in which 70 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2009 had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. An additional 6 percent had BACs of 0.01 to 0.07 percent.

Estimated Numberber and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers by BAC, time, and crash type, 2009
  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
Number Number % Number % Number % Number %
Single vehicle Night 4,247 1,034 24 246 6 2,966 70 2,214 52
Day 4,639 2,994 65 191 4 1,454 31 1,067 23
Multiple vehicle Night 1,800 946 53 98 5 756 42 584 32
Day 5,936 5,179 87 165 3 592 10 408 7

References