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
YearAll driversPassenger vehicle driversLarge truck driversMotorcycle driversPedestrians (age ≥ 16)
DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.08
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
198224,69012,1394919,66410,02451735123173,7231,810495,9932,66845
198324,13811,5434819,3389,52949767115153,5921,783505,5822,48645
198425,58911,4994520,2999,37846859107123,8961,834475,7552,43942
198525,33710,6854220,0578,6744377584113,8961,756455,5392,26341
198626,63011,4094321,5039,396447365883,7901,772475,5472,24240
198726,83311,0584122,1579,343426865383,4091,499445,5972,17639
198827,25311,1034122,8849,580427436693,1391,338435,7012,16238
198926,38910,6374022,5549,2004168168102,6821,233465,5572,18639
199025,75010,3954021,9538,973415705092,7901,235445,4882,13739
199123,9309,4854020,5518,242405503972,4041,059444,8801,89539
199222,5848,4523719,5737,434385062652,079873424,7341,86139
199323,1428,3223620,0367,328375042652,120825394,7401,85639
199423,6917,9133320,6477,083345453671,995663334,6371,71837
199524,3908,3073421,4567,488355463161,939664344,7831,79337
199624,5348,1753321,6317,336345253461,881683364,6701,80439
199724,6677,8433221,7117,069336161931,878622334,6211,63835
199824,7437,8343221,6276,944326283052,026716354,5971,67837
199925,2577,9183121,8996,994326312842,223736334,3251,64638
200025,5678,1663221,8197,127336412842,591847334,1921,53437
200125,8698,2523221,8627,205335912242,886853304,3681,55836
200226,6598,5153222,5377,381335823872,952940324,3671,58436
200326,7798,3543122,2007,120326082343,3581,010304,2981,56036
200426,8718,1553021,9526,952326242443,593995284,2371,52836
200527,4918,4893121,9537,104326632234,1421,141284,4581,55935
200627,3488,5783121,5927,164336783044,3871,179274,3841,65638
200726,5708,6173220,5427,057346631734,7401,328284,3051,58737
200824,2547,9613318,2666,280345341944,7821,436304,0691,54538
200921,7987,2813316,7915,861354071643,9821,184303,7941,40237

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
YearAll driversPassenger vehicle driversLarge truck driversMotorcycle driversPedestrians (age ≥ 16)
DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15DeathsEstimated deaths with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
198224,6908,6603519,6647,3283773575103,7231,136305,9932,07735
198324,1388,2403419,3386,9693676779103,5921,115315,5821,94535
198425,5898,2033220,2996,864348597083,8961,136295,7551,88633
198525,3377,5213020,0576,269317755573,8961,085285,5391,73231
198626,6308,0773021,5036,783327363453,7901,144305,5471,73031
198726,8337,9683022,1576,854316863453,409966285,5971,73531
198827,2538,1143022,8847,126317434563,139862275,7011,68830
198926,3897,7742922,5546,847306814972,682791295,5571,70631
199025,7507,6313021,9536,670305703262,790824305,4881,69731
199123,9307,0142920,5516,192305502442,404697294,8801,51231
199222,5846,2582819,5735,569285061732,079590284,7341,47431
199323,1426,1042620,0365,494275041432,120505244,7401,49932
199423,6915,8492520,6475,326265452751,995411214,6371,35529
199524,3906,0182521,4565,495265461931,939415214,7831,39429
199624,5345,9252421,6315,383255251841,881440234,6701,43331
199724,6675,6682321,7115,164246161421,878400214,6211,32929
199824,7435,6922321,6275,127246282342,026449224,5971,33229
199925,2575,6782221,8995,108236312232,223440204,3251,29230
200025,5675,8012321,8195,138246411022,591539214,1921,20429
200125,8695,9762321,8625,328245911732,886522184,3681,23228
200226,6596,1462322,5375,463245822342,952564194,3671,26729
200326,7796,0102222,2005,258246081523,358609184,2981,25429
200426,8715,8372221,9525,089236241623,593614174,2371,19528
200527,4916,0732221,9535,220246631424,142684174,4581,24628
200627,3486,1012221,5925,248246781834,387698164,3841,32430
200726,5706,2752420,5425,272266631124,740841184,3051,26929
200824,2545,8442418,2664,792265341334,782891194,0691,24331
200921,7985,2362416,7914,345264071233,982720183,7941,10929

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
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
< 16254141421639615
16-201,41349235627117192,04060930
21-302,8921,67858969362373,8622,04153
31-401,72492253672218322,3961,14048
41-501,89290748720218302,6121,12543
51-601,4884993467099152,15859828
61-701,047202194643071,51123215
> 701,4158267502332,1651055
Total*11,9024,788404,8871,0712216,7915,86135
*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
AgeMaleFemaleTotal*
Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
< 16251614193937
16-201,4133022162777122,04038019
21-302,8921,26344969271283,8621,53540
31-401,72472842672177262,39690638
41-501,89269337720166232,61285933
51-601,4883752567074112,15844921
61-701,047139134641641,51115610
> 701,4154437501112,165553
Total*11,9023,547304,8877961616,7914,34526
*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
Year16-20 years21-30 years> 30 years
Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Drivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
NumNum%NumNum%NumNum%
19823,4561,826536,2443,948639,8614,20843
19833,3261,681516,0533,859649,8453,94340
19843,4411,595466,4123,8856110,3373,86037
19853,2271,260396,2623,6595810,4413,71336
19863,6361,495416,6953,9745911,0423,88735
19873,6301,315366,8023,9755811,5794,01635
19883,7881,358366,8193,9915912,1454,20335
19893,5361,225356,4753,6755712,4014,27234
19903,3971,198356,1523,5105712,2744,23835
19913,0211,044355,6233,1835711,8013,99334
19922,697829315,1222,7595411,6393,82333
19932,805795285,0652,6585212,0383,85132
19942,990800274,9752,4845012,5253,77130
19952,983725245,0812,5855113,2464,15531
19963,026769254,9892,4755013,4784,07030
19973,036774254,7752,2754813,7774,00429
19983,094767254,5772,2224913,8393,93028
19993,261849264,6532,2604913,8703,86628
20003,250844264,7062,2684813,7433,99729
20013,247823254,7352,3585013,7904,00529
20023,452873254,9382,4625014,0064,02029
20033,260858264,8522,3084813,9573,93028
20043,175815264,9702,3724813,6893,74327
20052,985734255,0672,4924913,8093,85228
20063,020831285,1592,5354913,3213,77928
20072,728766285,0282,5925212,6973,67529
20082,292626274,3882,3275311,5283,30829
20092,040609303,8622,0415310,8423,20130

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 dayDrivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
9pm-6am6,0513,724622,80046
Other hours10,7402,136201,54514
Total16,7915,861354,34526

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 dayDrivers killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Midnight-3am2,3101,652721,27455
3am-6am1,6139215766041
6am-9am1,7802881619911
9am-Noon1,79215691106
Noon-3pm2,227259121838
3pm-6pm2,6095102037114
6pm-9pm2,1798363861428
9pm-midnight2,1281,1525486541
Total*16,7915,861354,34526
*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 killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumNum%Num%
Weekend (6pm Friday to 6am Monday)6,6983,202482,37035
Other times10,0932,659261,97520
Total16,7915,861354,34526

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 killedEstimated drivers killed with BACs = 0Estimated drivers killed with 0.01 ≤ BACs ≤ 0.07Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
NumberNumber%Number%Number%Number%
Single vehicleNight4,2471,0342424662,966702,21452
Day4,6392,9946519141,454311,06723
Multiple vehicleNight1,800946539857564258432
Day5,9365,179871653592104087

References