Though drunk driving rates appear on the decline, there are still too many Americans who lose their lives at the hands of inebriated drivers each year.
In 2015, more than 10,000 Americans lost their lives in an accident involving an alcohol-impaired driver. In fact, drunk drivers accounted for 29% of all fatalities on American roads that year.
But just how often do Americans mix alcohol with driving? Which states record the most drunk driving deaths? And how likely is it that you’ll get involved with a drunk driver on the road?
Which states are home to the most drunk driving?
12, 074 people died in an alcohol-related road accident in 2015. Those drunk drivers had a BAC of at least .01%, but many had a BAC over .08, the legal limit for driving. Drunk driving and blackouts contribute to road fatalities in every state in the US.
Of course, larger states typically mean more drivers behind the wheel to begin with, hence a higher propensity for accidents. Texas, Florida and California were among the states with the highest number of drunk driving deaths.
Total drunk driving deaths per state
Drunk driving deaths with BAC over the legal limit .08
Most total drunk driving deaths over .08
- Texas — 1,323
- California — 914
- Florida — 797
- North Carolina — 411
- Georgia — 366
Fewest total drunk driving deaths over .08
- Washington, DC — 6
- Vermont — 15
- Rhode Island — 19
- Alaska — 23
- New Hampshire — 33
Drunk driving deaths by percent of population
What’s really scary is breaking down the number of drunk driving deaths in relation to a state’s population.
For example, Florida’s roads saw 797 drunk driving deaths in 2015. For context, these deaths accounted for 0.14% of the state’s total population. The next closest was Ohio at 313 deaths, representing 0.05% of the population.
Highest percent of drunk driving deaths by population
You have a higher chance of getting in an accident with a drunk driver in these states.
- South Carolina
Lowest percent of drunk driving deaths by population
These 11 states have a much lower percentage of drunk driving deaths for the total population.
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Dakota
- Washington, D.C.
American drinking habits
Americans on the whole love a good drink. An estimated 148 million of us drink an average of seven alcoholic beverages weekly.
As a nation, we spend $5.4 billion a week on alcohol — that’s an average $36.56 per person. Every week. Or almost $2,000 a year on booze.
Which drinks are we knocking back?
The most popular beverage by a landslide is beer, with 39.53% of American adults drinking an average of five beers weekly.
Men are more likely to soak back the suds — some 53.4% of men pick up a weekly can of beer, compared with 26.48% of women who do the same. The top choice for women wanting a drink is wine, with 37.54% of women saying they drink an average of two glasses a week.
When it comes to spirits, here too do men drink more: An estimated 36.49% sip on liquor, compared with 18.43% of women.
Which age group are the hardest drinkers?
It probably doesn’t surprise you to hear that millennials are more likely to consume hard liquor or moonshine than Gen Xers or baby boomers. Millennials actually drink twice as much as those two generations combined!
Which states drink the most alcohol?
New Hampshire residents take the top spot for drinking, consuming an average of 4.72 gallons of alcohol annually per person. That includes beer, wine and liquor. New Hampshire’s total is more than three times that for people living in Utah, who drink a comparatively modest 1.39 gallons a year.
Other heavy drinkers? Those in Nevada, home of Las Vegas, who tipple more than 3 gallons a year each.
Top 5 drunkest states
- New Hampshire — 4.72 gallons
- Washington, DC — 3.82 gallons
- Delaware — 3.68 gallons
- Nevada — 3.32 gallons
- North Dakota — 3.25 gallons
What does each state drink?
Drunk driving in dry vs. wet counties
People who live in dry counties, or counties where alcohol isn’t sold, are actually more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related crash than people who live in wet counties, or counties where alcohol is sold.
According to one study that looked at six years of crash data in Kentucky, car crashes are equally common in dry and wet counties, but the drivers tend to be from dry areas. One hypothesis for this is that dry county residents have to drive further to get to a bar, so they’re more likely to be on the road after drinking.
Another study looked at over 20 years of drunk driving statistics in Texas and found that selling alcohol at restaurants or bars increased accidents, but selling alcohol at grocery or liquor stores decreased accidents — supporting the idea that the safest place to drink is at home.
What percent of road deaths involve drunk driving?
Out of all road deaths in the US, what percent involved drunk drivers compared to sober drivers? 29% of all road deaths involved a drunk driver in 2015, as the national average. That means out of 35,092 total road deaths, about a third of them, around 10,265 total, involved drivers with a BAC of 0.08 or higher — the legal limit for DUI.
How does each state compare to the national average?
Some states saw a higher percent of drunk driving deaths compared to road deaths not involving alcohol. Rhode Island has the highest percent at 43%. Out of all road accidents resulting in death in this state, almost half of them involved a drunk driver.
Higher percent of road deaths that involve drunk driving
- Rhode Island — 43%
- Connecticut — 39%
- Wyoming — 38%
- Texas — 38%
- North Dakota — 38%
Lower percent of road deaths that involve drunk driving
- Utah — 16%
- New Jersey — 20%
- Indiana — 22%
- Iowa — 24%
- Kansas — 24%
Comparing alcohol consumption and percent of drunk driving deaths
Does how much these states drink ultimately affect how many people are involved in alcohol-related accidents on its roads?
Surprisingly, no. The drunkest states don’t have a higher percentage of drunk driving deaths. Looking at the top five states for alcohol consumption, only one state — North Dakota — had a higher percent of drunk driving deaths, coming in at 38%.
Drunk driving limits in the US
What is BAC? Short for blood alcohol content, your BAC is the key factor law enforcement uses to determine whether you’re too drunk to drive.
All US states impose a limit of 0.08 — which means that 0.08% of your bloodstream is alcohol. But the legal BAC can vary depending on your age or whether you’re driving a commercial vehicle.
For instance, a Nevadan under the age of 21 can legally drive on the state’s roads with a BAC of 0.019. But once they hit the Arizona state line, they’re considered breaking the law: Arizona is a zero-tolerance state for drivers who are under 21.
Did you know?Starting October 1, 2018, Michigan will bump its legal blood alcohol limit to 0.10, higher than every other state in the nation.
How many drinks does it take to reach a BAC of 0.08?
Many people have a general idea of how many drinks they can knock back before hitting the legal limit. Something like two drinks in the first hour and one every hour after that.
A more methodical system accounts for how long you’ve been drinking, the beverage you’re imbibing and even your weight and gender.
But a portable breathalyzer is the most accurate way to determine if you’re fit to drive.
|Drinks||Approximate blood alcohol percentage|
|Drinks||Approximate blood alcohol percentage|
What other factors can affect your BAC?
Of the many variables that affect your ability to metabolize alcohol, there’s:
- Gender. Women’s bodies tend to have less body water, resulting in a slower absorption and metabolization of alcohol than men.
- Body fat. Fatty tissues don’t absorb alcohol well, which means that those with higher body fat can have higher BAC levels.
- Time. Both the time since your last drink and the rate of which you’re drinking can affect your BAC.
- Amount. Generally, the stronger the drink, the higher your BAC.
- Food. Drinking on an empty stomach can peak your BAC.
- Metabolism. How you metabolize food in general affects how your body absorbs the alcohol you drink.
How does alcohol affect your ability to drive?
Any amount of alcohol in your body can affect how you drive. Just a few drinks alters your concentration, your judgment and how you react to sudden traffic changes.
The more drinks you down, the more your vision, hearing and hand-eye coordination are impaired, making it more difficult to keep your vehicle driving in a straight line.
With enough alcohol in your system — starting at just 0.15 BAC — you might just blackout entirely behind the wheel.
Drunk driving is a nationwide problem, and to reduce the number of fatalities each year, it’s up to us to think twice before getting behind the wheel. A simple way to protect fellow drivers is establishing a designated driver (DD) before you go out for the evening.
If nobody volunteers to be DD, you can always leave your car at home and take the bus, a train or taxi, or more conveniently, call a rideshare. Drive safe!
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