Fatality Facts 2020Alcohol

Overview

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., & 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, 387-395. Voas, R. B., Torres, P., Romano, E., & Lacey, J. H. (2012). Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: An update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 341-350.

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., & 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, 387-395. , Peck, R. C., Gebers, M. A., Voas, R. B., & Romano, E. (2008). The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 311-319.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have per se laws making it a crime to drive with a BAC at or above 0.08 percent. In Utah, it's a crime to drive with a BAC of 0.05 percent or above.

Substantial progress was made from 1982 to the mid-1990s in reducing the numbers and proportion of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent. However, little subsequent progress has been made, and alcohol-impaired driving is still a major problem. Institute research estimates that 25 percent of crash deaths could be prevented each year if all drivers with BACs of 0.08 percent or higher were kept off the roads. Farmer, C. M. (2021). Potential lives saved by in-vehicle alcohol detection systems. Traffic Injury Prevention, 22, 7-12.

At the same BAC, drivers younger than 21 are far more likely than older drivers to get into a fatal or nonfatal crash. Zador, P. L., Krawchuck, S., & 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, 387-395. Voas, R. B., Torres, P., Romano, E., & Lacey, J. H. (2012). Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: An update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 341-350. Peck, R. C., Gebers, M. A., Voas, R. B., & Romano, E. (2008). The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 311-319.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. The percentage of fatally injured 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent now is substantially lower than drivers ages 21-50.

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

Posted May 2022.

Who is killed

In 2020, the individuals most often killed in crashes involving at least one alcohol-impaired driver (BAC ≥ 0.08 percent) were alcohol-impaired drivers (7,281 deaths), followed by occupants of other vehicles (1,605 deaths), passengers riding with an alcohol-impaired driver (1,541 deaths), and nonoccupants (1,225 deaths).

Fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC ≥ 0.08 percent, 2020
Age Alcohol-Impaired Drivers Passengers Riding With Alcohol-Impaired Drivers Occupants of Other Vehicles Nonoccupants Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
0-15 15 0 152 10 76 5 36 3 279 2
16-20 436 6 240 16 123 8 55 4 854 7
21-30 2,167 30 513 33 362 23 198 16 3,241 28
31-40 1,625 22 246 16 266 17 230 19 2,367 20
41-50 1,161 16 148 10 216 13 207 17 1,732 15
51-60 1,048 14 123 8 237 15 219 18 1,627 14
61-70 559 8 61 4 164 10 186 15 970 8
>70 256 4 50 3 158 10 78 6 541 5
Total* 7,281 100 1,541 100 1,605 100 1,225 100 11,654 100

Age and sex

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2020, a higher proportion of males than females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent at every age. Overall, 33 percent of males and 23 percent of females had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. The percentage was highest among males ages 21-30. The lowest percentage was observed among females older than 70. 

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age and sex, 2020
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
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
16-20 1,174 323 28 388 77 20 1,562 400 26
21-30 3,094 1,338 43 1,145 406 35 4,241 1,745 41
31-40 2,269 942 41 872 278 32 3,146 1,223 39
41-50 1,744 664 38 643 165 26 2,387 829 35
51-60 1,728 566 33 714 136 19 2,445 703 29
61-70 1,440 330 23 578 80 14 2,019 411 20
>70 1,651 174 11 733 46 6 2,387 221 9
Total* 13,153 4,351 33 5,091 1,192 23 18,261 5,550 30

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2020, 24 percent of males and 17 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 sex, 2020
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
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
16-20 1,174 202 17 388 50 13 1,562 251 16
21-30 3,094 991 32 1,145 288 25 4,241 1,279 30
31-40 2,269 705 31 872 211 24 3,146 918 29
41-50 1,744 520 30 643 121 19 2,387 642 27
51-60 1,728 420 24 714 101 14 2,445 522 21
61-70 1,440 242 17 578 55 10 2,019 297 15
>70 1,651 116 7 733 31 4 2,387 147 6
Total* 13,153 3,205 24 5,091 859 17 18,261 4,067 22

Since the 1980s, the percentage of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent has declined more among 16-20 year-olds than among older drivers. The percentage of fatally injured 16-20 year-old passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent now is substantially lower than drivers ages 21-50. However, this gap narrowed in 2020, as the percentage of fatally injured drivers ages 16-20 with high BACs increased from 21 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2020.

Percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2020

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08 percent by driver age, 1982-2020
Year 16-20 years 21-30 years 31-40 years 41-50 years >50 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 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
1982 3,456 1,826 53 6,244 3,948 63 3,352 1,980 59 1,935 1,023 53 4,574 1,206 26
1983 3,326 1,681 51 6,053 3,859 64 3,383 1,982 59 1,847 853 46 4,615 1,108 24
1984 3,441 1,595 46 6,413 3,885 61 3,549 1,892 53 1,949 890 46 4,839 1,077 22
1985 3,227 1,260 39 6,263 3,659 58 3,430 1,842 54 2,071 914 44 4,940 957 19
1986 3,636 1,495 41 6,695 3,974 59 3,801 1,997 53 2,007 896 45 5,234 994 19
1987 3,630 1,315 36 6,802 3,975 58 4,049 2,151 53 2,128 896 42 5,402 968 18
1988 3,788 1,358 36 6,819 3,991 59 4,130 2,200 53 2,400 1,011 42 5,615 992 18
1989 3,536 1,225 35 6,475 3,675 57 4,130 2,168 52 2,558 1,100 43 5,713 1,004 18
1990 3,397 1,198 35 6,152 3,510 57 4,135 2,263 55 2,519 1,045 41 5,620 930 17
1991 3,021 1,044 35 5,623 3,183 57 3,831 2,111 55 2,479 1,049 42 5,491 833 15
1992 2,697 829 31 5,122 2,759 54 3,734 1,993 53 2,416 970 40 5,489 860 16
1993 2,805 795 28 5,065 2,658 52 3,826 2,003 52 2,475 975 39 5,737 873 15
1994 2,990 800 27 4,975 2,484 50 3,858 1,923 50 2,631 1,024 39 6,036 824 14
1995 2,983 725 24 5,081 2,585 51 4,118 2,090 51 2,854 1,147 40 6,275 918 15
1996 3,026 769 25 4,989 2,475 50 4,061 1,984 49 2,937 1,137 39 6,480 949 15
1997 3,036 774 25 4,775 2,275 48 3,913 1,947 50 2,994 1,124 38 6,870 934 14
1998 3,094 767 25 4,577 2,222 49 3,912 1,831 47 3,140 1,184 38 6,787 915 13
1999 3,261 849 26 4,653 2,260 49 3,821 1,799 47 3,131 1,176 38 6,918 891 13
2000 3,250 844 26 4,706 2,268 48 3,724 1,767 47 3,255 1,268 39 6,764 963 14
2001 3,247 823 25 4,735 2,358 50 3,643 1,700 47 3,300 1,334 40 6,847 972 14
2002 3,452 873 25 4,938 2,462 50 3,678 1,696 46 3,449 1,360 39 6,879 964 14
2003 3,260 858 26 4,852 2,308 48 3,453 1,534 44 3,420 1,352 40 7,084 1,044 15
2004 3,175 815 26 4,970 2,372 48 3,333 1,414 42 3,438 1,276 37 6,918 1,053 15
2005 2,985 734 25 5,067 2,492 49 3,372 1,526 45 3,358 1,290 38 7,079 1,036 15
2006 3,020 831 28 5,159 2,535 49 3,288 1,511 46 3,263 1,216 37 6,770 1,052 16
2007 2,728 766 28 5,028 2,592 52 2,992 1,408 47 3,060 1,211 40 6,645 1,056 16
2008 2,292 626 27 4,388 2,327 53 2,656 1,300 49 2,718 1,068 39 6,154 940 15
2009 2,049 609 30 3,870 2,020 52 2,399 1,127 47 2,623 1,107 42 5,847 923 16
2010 1,675 438 26 3,697 1,816 49 2,414 1,086 45 2,312 914 40 5,887 914 16
2011 1,722 488 28 3,612 1,747 48 2,230 987 44 2,218 871 39 5,745 962 17
2012 1,624 436 27 3,748 1,803 48 2,391 1,099 46 2,188 872 40 5,926 988 17
2013 1,381 360 26 3,671 1,788 49 2,336 1,058 45 2,138 850 40 6,018 1,049 17
2014 1,434 344 24 3,636 1,707 47 2,317 987 43 2,042 752 37 6,025 1,110 18
2015 1,591 348 22 3,860 1,658 43 2,522 1,067 42 2,121 744 35 6,491 1,090 17
2016 1,591 330 21 4,205 1,812 43 2,726 1,114 41 2,218 781 35 6,857 1,102 16
2017 1,483 322 22 4,057 1,721 42 2,830 1,125 40 2,282 767 34 7,056 1,174 17
2018 1,439 289 20 3,962 1,674 42 2,711 1,062 39 2,158 736 34 6,958 1,191 17
2019 1,334 286 21 3,639 1,552 43 2,736 1,063 39 2,148 710 33 6,985 1,174 17
2020 1,562 400 26 4,241 1,745 41 3,146 1,223 39 2,387 829 35 6,851 1,335 19

When alcohol-impaired crashes occur

Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes peaks at night. Between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., 50 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2020 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, 2020
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
9 p.m. - 6 a.m. 6,198 3,086 50 2,274 37
Other hours 12,063 2,465 20 1,793 15
Total 18,261 5,550 30 4,067 22

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

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2020
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
Midnight - 3 a.m. 2,124 1,237 58 902 42
3 a.m. - 6 a.m. 1,602 660 41 487 30
6 a.m. - 9 a.m. 2,003 295 15 203 10
9 a.m. - noon 1,867 192 10 129 7
Noon - 3 p.m. 2,512 340 14 248 10
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. 2,830 614 22 453 16
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 2,683 946 35 700 26
9 p.m. - midnight 2,472 1,189 48 885 36
Total* 18,261 5,550 30 4,067 22

Forty-one percent of passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured on weekends (6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday) in 2020 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, 2020
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
Weekend (6 p.m. Friday - 6 a.m. Monday) 6,968 2,830 41 2,090 30
Other times 11,293 2,720 24 1,978 18
Total 18,261 5,550 30 4,067 22

Alcohol involvement is very high in fatal nighttime (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) single-vehicle crashes. In 2020, 59 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in these crashes had BACs at or above 0.08 percent, and 44 percent had BACs at or above 0.15 percent. Five percent had BACs of 0.01 to 0.07 percent.

Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers by BAC, time, and crash type, 2020
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 3,744 1,344 36 198 5 2,202 59 1,631 44
Day 4,841 3,154 65 184 4 1,502 31 1,115 23
Multiple vehicle Night 2,454 1,432 58 138 6 884 36 643 26
Day 7,054 5,960 84 209 3 885 13 617 9