DUI Statistics and Trends: 2022 Annual Report

Drunk driving fatalities and arrests have declined for decades nationally, but the pandemic may be rendering roadways more dangerous.

By: SafeHome.org Research | Published: Jan 23, 2022

Fatalities caused by driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs have steadily declined in the US for decades, yet the numbers remain unacceptably high. Over 10,000 Americans are killed by drunk drivers annually, with fatalities spiking around holidays. Additionally, hints of higher impairment rates during COVID-19 have compounded the threats on our roadways.

This is all despite widespread public understanding that driving under the influence is incredibly dangerous — a 2021 study revealed that 78 percent of Americans were very concerned about the danger of drunk driving, and 69 percent were very concerned about the danger of drug-impaired drivers.1

Still, drunk driving claims thousands of lives on the road and accounts for more arrests than murder, rape, aggravated assault and burglary combined according to the latest Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data. Additionally, 22.5 percent of drivers aged 21 or older admitted to driving while intoxicated at least once in 2021, with 12 percent reporting they do so often.2

There’s no doubt that driving under the influence is more common than it should be, but it’s also the case that certain areas of the country seem to have a bigger issue with intoxicated drivers than others. This is why we gathered data on national and state DUI trends as well as how DUI rates have changed since last year.

Key Statistics:
  • Drunk drivers account for 28 percent of American traffic fatalities, equaling more than 10,000 deaths each year.
  • New data suggest that the percentage of crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit has jumped from 19 percent to 26 percent during COVID.
  • Ten percent of all criminal arrests across the country are for driving under the influence, more than all violent crimes combined.
  • South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming lead the nation in DUI arrests. All states except Delaware, Illinois, and New Hampshire had fewer DUI arrests in 2019 compared to 2010.
  • In Rhode Island, North Dakota, and New Hampshire, 40 percent or more of traffic deaths in 2019 involved drunk drivers.

National Trends: Drunk Driving Remains a Tragic Threat but Steadily Declining

Extensive efforts by activists, legislators, and advertisers, accompanied by the acceptance of designated drivers and ridesharing apps, have significantly decreased drunk driving deaths in recent years. Yet driving under the influence remains the second most common human factor in fatal car crashes.
Top 5 Related Factors for Drivers Involved in Fatal Crashes (2019)
1. Speeding
2. Driving under the influence
3. Failure to yield right of way
4. Improper lane usage
5. Distracted driving
Source: FARS Related Factors for Drivers Involved in Fatal Crashes, 2019
Nationwide, legally intoxicated drivers caused 10,142 fatalities in 2019 (the most recent year with complete statistics), accounting for more than a quarter of roadway deaths.3 Connecting 28% of fatalities to legally intoxicated drivers represents an appreciable drop from 2010 when drunk drivers were responsible for 31% of auto fatalities and a sizable decrease from 1990 when impairment caused 40% of roadway deaths.4 Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 13

How the Pandemic Has Affected Impaired Driving

With comprehensive statistics covering only through 2019, there isn’t yet conclusive evidence demonstrating how DUI behavior has changed during the pandemic. Anecdotes and new, yet limited analysis are beginning to paint a picture. With travel and commuting curtailed by COVID, the number of daily American auto trips in 2020 dropped by a third compared to 2019.5 But increased liquor sales and limited medical data suggest that a higher percentage of those who were on the road may have been impaired.6 Before the Covid-19 pandemic reached the U.S. in 2020, emergency medical technicians and medical examiners found that 19 percent of drivers they tested had BACs over the legal limit. By the summer of 2021, 26 percent of drivers tested had BACs of .08 or higher.7 Source: USDOT Behavioral Research: Update to Special Reports on Traffic Safety During COVID-19 Since this data was collected from injured or deceased drivers in five separate east coast cities, it is limited, but it revealed a significant increase in legally drunk drivers involved in crashes during the first seven months of the pandemic. Additionally, since the pandemic’s start in early 2020, more drivers have admitted to driving drunk, and doing it often. Source: TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2021

Impaired Driving Fluctuates by Demographics and Timing

Overall, 19 percent of drivers involved in fatal accidents were legally drunk in 2019 – down from 22 percent in 2010.8 The individual likelihood of intoxication varied significantly depending on drivers’ age and gender, as well as when they were driving.

Age Differences in Drunk Driving Crashes

Young adults represented the most dangerous age group for drunk driving. Motorists involved in fatal accidents between the ages of 21-24 were legally impaired 1.5 times more often than the national average in 2019.9 That percentage gradually tails off as age (and perhaps wisdom) increases. Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, 2010, 2019 (Table 78) That same relative distribution was observed in 2010, though it’s noteworthy that fatal drunk driver percentages increased slightly among those under 16 and over 55 during the decade, defying overall trends.

Male Motorists More Likely to Be Involved in Deadly Crashes

Male motorists involved in deadly crashes were 1.5 times more likely to be legally drunk than female motorists.
Percentage of Drivers in Fatal Crashes Who Were Legally Intoxicated, By Gender
Male Female
21% 14%
Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2019
Because male drivers are involved in more collisions overall, this difference meant that 4 out of 5 impaired drivers in deadly accidents in 2019 were men.10

Drunk Driving Deaths More Common at Night

The likelihood of encountering a drunk driver can vary greatly depending upon when one is on the roads. A fatal accident at night is three times more likely to be caused by an impaired motorist than a daytime accident.
Percentage of Drivers Involved Fatal Accidents Who Were Legally Intoxicated (By Time of Day, 2019)
Daytime (6 am – 5:59 pm) Nighttime (6 pm – 5:59 am)
9% 30%
Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts 2019 (Table 15)
The chance that a deadly crash involves intoxicated drivers also doubles around most major holidays compared to other days.11

Impaired Driving Costs Both Lives and Freedom

In addition to causing great bodily harm, impaired drivers risk criminal penalties. A primary component of the nation’s DUI crackdown has been tougher laws accompanied by stricter enforcement, resulting in over 1 million drunk driving arrests in 2019.12 As anti-DUI policies have driven down violations and fatalities, arrests have also declined. DUI arrests dropped 31 percent between 2010 and 2019, but still represent 10 percent of nationwide arrests – twice the number made for all violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) combined.13 DUI arrests reflect demographic distributions similar to drivers involved in fatal crashes. Approximately 81 percent of people arrested for DUIs in 2019 were male and 19 percent were female.14 Source: 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, Table 38 Likewise, young adults are most frequently arrested, with drivers aged 21-29 made up 33 percent of all DUI arrests in 2019.

Some states are making more progress than others in reducing DUIs

Nationally, the DUI arrest rate was 287 per every 100,000 citizens in 2019, but that number varied greatly by state; from highs over 600 in Wyoming and the Dakotas to a low of 47 in Delaware.15 Almost every state reduced its DUI arrest rate from 2010 to 2019, but three states increased in that period. The most dramatic jumps were in Illinois and Delaware, where each nearly doubled arrests.
State DUI Arrests Per 100K (2010) DUI Arrests Per 100K (2019) % Change in Arrest Rate
Alabama 386 N/A N/A
Alaska 708 417 41%
Arizona 626 323 48%
Arkansas 398 229 42%
California 544 315 42%
Colorado 619 400 35%
Connecticut 283 213 25%
Delaware 23 47 98%
Florida 279 158 43%
Georgia 367 237 35%
Hawaii 491 354 28%
Idaho 713 451 37%
Illinois 133 272 105%
Indiana 456 314 31%
Iowa 432 372 14%
Kansas 655 351 46%
Kentucky 695 361 48%
Louisiana 311 158 49%
Maine 467 407 13%
Maryland 386 300 22%
Massachusetts 190 160 16%
Michigan 377 267 29%
Minnesota 471 366 22%
Mississippi 701 425 39%
Missouri 532 371 30%
Montana 426 392 8%
Nebraska 761 322 58%
Nevada 559 379 32%
New Hampshire 381 399 5%
New Jersey 303 238 21%
New Mexico 625 307 51%
New York 381 253 34%
North Carolina 645 161 75%
North Dakota 651 635 2%
Ohio 425 134 69%
Oklahoma 471 232 51%
Oregon 408 337 17%
Pennsylvania 418 383 8%
Rhode Island 247 234 5%
South Carolina 438 179 59%
South Dakota 772 677 12%
Tennessee 417 291 30%
Texas 376 247 34%
Utah 269 178 34%
Vermont 451 431 4%
Virginia 365 249 32%
Washington 647 388 40%
West Virginia 331 250 24%
Wisconsin 587 437 26%
Wyoming 1039 623 40%
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Report, 2010, 2019
The percentage of drunk driving deaths likewise decreased within most states during the last decade. Most notably, South Carolina and Delaware had the largest decreases in the percentage of traffic deaths involving drivers with BAC over .08, though a handful of states (Oregon, Iowa, Maine, Alaska, and New Hampshire) saw their numbers jump by 5 points or more.
State Percentage of people killed in crashes involving driver with BAC .08 or more (2010) Percentage of people killed in crashes involving driver with BAC .08 or more (2019) Percentage Point Change in Rate of DUI-related Fatalities
Alabama 31% 30% 1
Alaska 28% 33% 5
Arizona 27% 27% 0
Arkansas 31% 25% 6
California 28% 26% 2
Colorado 27% 27% 0
Connecticut 37% 38% 1
Delaware 37% 24% 13
District of Columbia 27% 26% 1
Florida 28% 25% 3
Georgia 24% 24% 0
Hawaii 38% 34% 4
Idaho 34% 30% 4
Illinois 32% 31% 1
Indiana 26% 26% 0
Iowa 22% 30% 8
Kansas 31% 22% 9
Kentucky 22% 20% 2
Louisiana 31% 30% 1
Maine 25% 32% 7
Maryland 31% 32% 1
Massachusetts 35% 33% 2
Michigan 25% 26% 1
Minnesota 31% 24% 7
Mississippi 27% 26% 1
Missouri 31% 27% 4
Montana 38% 36% 2
Nebraska 26% 24% 2
Nevada 27% 30% 3
New Hampshire 35% 40% 5
New Jersey 29% 23% 6
New Mexico 34% 31% 3
New York 30% 28% 2
North Carolina 29% 24% 5
North Dakota 44% 41% 3
Ohio 31% 30% 1
Oklahoma 33% 24% 9
Oregon 22% 34% 12
Pennsylvania 32% 28% 4
Rhode Island 40% 44% 4
South Carolina 44% 28% 16
South Dakota 27% 27% 0
Tennessee 28% 26% 2
Texas 42% 37% 5
Utah 18% 16% 2
Vermont 25% 19% 6
Virginia 28% 28% 0
Washington 37% 33% 4
West Virginia 27% 22% 5
Wisconsin 36% 32% 4
Wyoming 34% 25% 9
Source: NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, 2010, 2019 (Table 117)
The states with the highest percentage of fatalities attributable to impaired driving were Rhode Island, North Dakota, and New Hampshire, while the lowest were Utah and Vermont.

Conclusion

Rampant drunk driving was first targeted by American legislators and law enforcement agencies in the 1980s, spurring a nationwide decline in fatalities and accidents that has continued through 2019. Certain states, demographics, and public celebrations have proven resistant to DUI reforms, but recent events may provide even more formidable challenges. Traffic loads and consumption habits altered by the pandemic threaten to increase the proportion of impaired drivers for the first time in years. Further study and time are required to assess the depth of these new dangers, but let’s hope the trend towards greater safety continues.

Sources

  1. TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2021, https://tirf.us/projects/road-safety-monitors-national-opinion-polls-on-alcohol-impaired-driving-in-the-united-states/
  2. TIRF USA Road Safety Monitor 2021 https://tirf.us/projects/road-safety-monitors-national-opinion-polls-on-alcohol-impaired-driving-in-the-united-states/
  3. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 13, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  4. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 13, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  5. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Daily Travel during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency www.bts.gov/daily-travel
  6. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/908773533/hangover-from-alcohol-boom-could-last-long-after-pandemic-ends
  7. USDOT Behavioral Research: Update to Special Reports on Traffic Safety During COVID-19, https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.gov/files/2021-06/Update_Traffic%20Safety%20During%20COVID-19_4thQtr-060121-web.pdf
  8. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  9. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 78, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  10. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 16, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  11. NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, Table 14, https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/tsftables/tsfar.htm#
  12. 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/tables/table-38
  13. 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/tables/table-29
  14. 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/tables/table-33
  15. 2019 FBI Uniform Crime Report, https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/topic-pages/tables/table-69