In 2021 there were 13,384 people killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers (defined as drivers or motorcycle riders with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher). This was an increase of 14.2% from the 11,718 fatalities in 2020 (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2023a). Fatalities in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers continue to represent almost one-third (31%) of the total motor vehicle fatalities in the United States. NHTSA’s most recent State Alcohol-Impaired-Driving Estimates Traffic Safety Facts (NCSA, 2023c) contains additional national and State statistics pertaining to crashes involving alcohol.
Alcohol-impaired driving dropped steadily from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. A study showed much of this decrease could be attributed to alcohol-related legislation (e.g., .08 BAC), administrative license revocation, and minimum drinking age laws) and to demographic trends (e.g., the aging of the population and the increased proportion of female drivers) (Dang, 2008). However, during this period there also was substantial public attention to the issue of alcohol-impaired driving, including the growth of grassroots organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Remove Intoxicated Drivers, increased Federal programs and funding, State task forces, and increased enforcement and intensive publicity, all which combined to address this critical traffic safety problem.
As shown in the figure below, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased 53% from 1982 to 2011. However, fatalities increased 36% from 2011 to 2021, due in part to a noticeable rise in alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities during 2020 and 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities
As shown in the next chart, the rate of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities, based on VMT, has declined noticeably over the last 3 decades. However, the percentages of fatalities in the United States that involve alcohol-impaired driving has decreased only slightly during this time.
Percentages of U.S. Driving Fatalities Who Were Alcohol-Impaired and Alcohol-Impaired Fatality Rate by VMT