Contribution of alcohol-impaired driving to motor vehicle crash deaths in 2010

Lund, Adrian K. / McCartt, Anne T. / Farmer, Charles M.
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
May 2012

Although it is well-known that alcohol-impaired driving increases crash risk, the number of crash deaths specifically attributable to alcohol-impaired driving is less well known. Many fatal crashes occur with sober drivers, and many fatal crashes of drinking drivers would still have occurred if they had not been drinking. In order to understand what is possible with different countermeasures — for example, those aimed at convicted offenders or high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) drivers versus those targeted at the general population of drivers — it is important to know how much of the problem is accounted for by these different target populations. In this paper we describe a calculation procedure for estimating the number of crash fatalities in the 2010 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) attributable to different driver BACs. The procedure first classifies all fatalities by the highest BAC for driver(s) involved in the crash. Then, using the risk curve developed by Zador et al., the number of fatalities specifically attributable to the high BACs is estimated. It is estimated that drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 g/dL were involved in the deaths of 10,228 road users in the United States in 2010 and that, had all these drivers had BACs below 0.08 g/dL, 7,082 of these deaths would have been prevented — this is the number attributable directly to BACs at or above 0.08 g/dL. Had all drivers had BACs below 0.05 g/dL, an estimated 8,770 deaths would have been prevented. If all drivers in 2010 had had zero BACs, as many as 10,600 deaths would have been prevented. If all drivers with at least one alcohol-impaired driving conviction within 3 years prior to the crash were restricted to BACs below 0.08 g/dL, 552 deaths could have been prevented in 2010.