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Drinking and driving facts: drunk driving fact sheet

Driving Under the Influence and BAC

Consuming alcohol seriously hampers and impairs abilities like alertness, judgment, comprehension, quick thinking, and reflexes, all crucial for the process of driving. Many accidents are caused annually, in the US, due to drunk driving, also known as Driving under Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).  

The amount of alcohol in a person’s body, or Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is used to ascertain the level of intoxication of the person, for legal and medical issues. The BAC stands for the percentage of alcohol in deciliters of blood. Statistically, drivers with high BAC levels are 385 times more likely to die in single vehicle crashes than their sober counterparts.

DUI Related Statistics

41% of all motor vehicle crash deaths have been caused by drunk driving, with 17,941 Americans reported dead from this cause in 2006. Research by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTA) has shown that three out of ten American citizens are involved in an alcohol related accident, at least once in their life, and more than 10% of all drunken driving trips are caused by persons in the 18 to 20 age group. 11% all drunk-driving deaths in the US in 2007 are caused by teenagers. Accidents that are alcohol related cause the US an annual loss of $73 billion.

All US states have the authority of shaping laws and penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol. It is universally accepted, however, that any person with a BAC level of more than 0.08% cannot legally drive in the United States. It is illegal, in 43 US states, for an open alcohol bottle to be present in the car, and in 9 states the ignition interlock systems are compulsory for drivers that have been convicted for driving when intoxicated. The state of Virginia has a law that states the license can be cancelled for up to 1 year if the driver is found driving under the influence, with every consecutive conviction causing another 3 year suspension. All consecutive convictions carry the possibility of a jail term. In Texas, however, the initial suspension lasts for 90 days, with an extension of 180 days possible.

In most of the states, a drunk-driving conviction is followed by license revocation.  There is a chance that the driver fails or refuses a medical test, and in this case the driver’s license can be canceled before the conviction is made final, in a process known as administrative license suspension.


The most effective method of stopping driving under the influence of alcohol seems to be the automatic cancellation of the driving license. Most states prefer the method of installing the ignition interlock system, which has been found to be a fine way of discouraging intoxicated driving. With this system the driver has to blow into an alcohol sensor unit which in turn blocks the car from starting in the case of the alcohol level in the blood of the driver being too high. Sobriety checkpoints lower the rate of fatal crashes by around 22%, and after the 0.08% BAC law was passed there has been a drop in 7% in incidents of alcohol related crashes.  Other effective means include the implementation of the Zero Tolerance law, which has reduced the amount of crashes by young drivers by 11%. The raising of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) to 21 years has been effective in diminishing the number of crashes due to drinking and driving among people between 18 and 21, by 16%.

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