We all know that drunk driving is dangerous, and most people would agree that it’s a good idea to avoid driving drunk. But even with this knowledge, people drive drunk nearly 300,000 times per day, and nearly 4,000 people are arrested for drunk driving every day.
You’ve certainly heard that drunk driving can be deadly and that DUIs are expensive, but do you know drunk driving’s true impact? We’ll examine fatal accidents at the hands of drunk drivers, some of the consequences of drunk driving, and how you can take steps to avoid drunk driving yourself — and possibly save your life and that of others.
Just How Dangerous is Drunk Driving, Really?
A few drinks and a quick trip home won’t kill you, will it? You might feel like luck is on your side, but the reality is that drunk driving and impaired driving kill nearly 30 Americans every day, or one death every 51 minutes. Consider these drunk driving statistics to put its danger into perspective:
- More than 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2013 (CDC)
- Nearly four of those drunk driving fatalities include a teenage driver (DFW)
- Alcohol-impaired driving crashes account for 31% (nearly one third) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States (CDC)
- The average person will metabolize about one drink per hour. A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. All contain the same amount of alcohol (MSU)
- 17% of children killed in motor vehicle accidents occurred in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, and over half of those children were occupants in the car with a drunk driver (NHTSA)
- Drunk drivers are more likely to die in a fatal crash involving alcohol than passengers in their vehicle, occupants of other vehicles, and non-occupants combined. Drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher make up 65% of total drunk driving fatalities (NHTSA)
Are Just a Few Drinks OK?
Consider this: the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes is nearly identical for those at .02 blood alcohol content and those at .26. Even drivers with just a .01 blood alcohol content are killed in more than 200 drunk driving crashes every year.
You certainly don’t have to be falling down drunk to be a dangerous drunk driver. Drivers at every blood alcohol content level from .01 to .27 have caused more than 200 fatal drunk driving crashes each year. Drivers with a level of .16 die in the most fatal crashes each year, nearly 550 annually.
Alcohol impairment, even at a low level, has serious effects on your ability to drive. The typical effects of alcohol on your driving abilities include:
- the decline in visual functions, including tracking of moving objects
- the decline in the ability to multitask
- loss of muscle control
- loss of judgment
- altered mood
- difficulty steering
- lowered alertness
- poor muscle coordination
- memory impairment
- lowered speed control
- impaired perception
- impaired concentration
- lowered reaction time and control
- lowered ability to maintain position and braking
- loss of balance
The Expense of a DUI
Drunk driving fatalities are frightening enough, but for drunk drivers who don’t die but are rather pulled over, it’s not necessarily a happy story. The financial cost of a DUI is estimated to be at least $10,000 just for costs associated with a DUI arrest, legal fees, and alcohol education. Plus, some estimates indicate that you’ll pay a whopping $40,000 more for your auto insurance premiums over 13 years following a DUI conviction.
Of course, these expenses don’t include the potential in property damage, possible job loss, stress on relationships, injury, and loss of freedom. And that’s if no one is killed or seriously injured by your drunk driving accident.
Drunk driving is costly, even if you’re not facing a DUI. According to the NHTSA, the estimated economic cost of alcohol-impaired driving crashes in the United States is $49.8 billion annually. This cost includes lost productivity, legal expenses, medical costs, EMS, insurance, property damage, and traffic.
How Drunk Driving Ruins Lives
There’s no question that drunk driving hurts the lives of both drunk drivers and their victims. Drivers and victims who are killed or seriously injured will be forever impacted. But even if you just end up with a DUI conviction, you’ll have serious consequences to face that may last for several months or years — or the rest of your life.
Consequences of a DUI conviction include:
- criminal offense (typically a misdemeanor) on your record for the rest of your life
- loss of your license or suspension for months or longer
- the requirement that you use a breath alcohol detection device
- alcohol education classes
- alcohol addiction treatment
- community service
- possible imprisonment for a few days or even a year or longer, depending on the severity of the situation
If you’re convicted of vehicular assault or vehicular homicide, in which a person is seriously injured or killed, you will have a felony on your record. These convictions typically come with sentences ranging from two years to a lifetime in prison.
Drivers who receive a DUI spend an average of six months in jail and three years on probation. DUI classes take about six months, and court cases drag on for several months.
Drivers with a DUI conviction will also likely lose their license for a minimum of three months. This can cause difficulties getting to work, school, and other essential tasks. Individuals with a DUI conviction may lose their jobs or experience trouble at school.
In addition to these consequences, you’ll likely have to complete an extensive drunk driving education course. These courses will typically involve education in the dangers of drunk driving and an assessment and intervention as needed. They can be very costly and time consuming.
A DUI can set you up for more danger in the future as well. Drivers who have driven drunk in the past and then drive again often end up in fatal crashes. According to the CDC, drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher that were involved in fatal crashes were six times more likely to have a prior conviction for DWI than drivers with no alcohol in their system. About one third of all drivers arrested or convicted of drunk driving are repeat offenders.
What You Can Do to Prevent Drunk Driving
Drunk driving is often a crime individuals don’t plan to commit. They head out for a night of fun with friends and simply don’t consider what will happen when it’s time to head home. But when the bar is closed, and you’ve hit the freeway, the dangerous reality of drunk driving can come crashing down on you quickly.
You can take steps to stop yourself and others from drunk driving and potentially save the lives of others — even yourself:
- Choose a designated driver: Before drinking, designate a driver who will not be drinking. You can take turns with friends so that everyone can have a night out fairly, but when it’s your turn to drive, don’t drink.
- Never let others drive drunk: Save the lives of your friends or family by not allowing them to drive drunk. Take their keys away and call them a cab, paying for it if you have to.
- Ask for a ride home, or get a cab: If you are drunk but need to get home, ask for a ride home from a friend or family member. If help isn’t available, call a cab or Uber it home. Though there is an expense involved, even a $50 cab ride home pales in comparison to the thousands spent on DUI costs, and is priceless compared to the potential of losing your life or killing someone else while driving drunk.
- Take care when hosting a party: If you’re hosting a party with alcohol, make sure every attendee has a safe way to get home.