How many American drunk drivers are there? It’s a tricky question to answer, since we usually hear only about the ones who are arrested. There are many more who don’t make it into the news, even though they are guilty of the same crime.

The Centers for Disease Control did a survey to find out how many adults admitted to driving drunk during a given month. The answer was chilling: an estimated 4.2 million adults said they had driven while impaired by alcohol.  Multiply that by 12, and you get 121 million episodes of drunk driving each year.

That doesn’t give us the number of people who drive drunk – many of those episodes will be repeats by the same drivers. A more conservative, but still chilling, estimate was proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a survey they did. They found that 8 percent of drivers, or 17 million Americans, admitted to driving under the influence that year (2008).

Country of the Drunk Drivers

If all American drunk drivers – those who admitted to NHTSA that they drove impaired – were given their own country to live in, what would it look like? For one thing, the population would larger than quite a few countries, among them Belgium, Greece, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Portugal, and Sweden.

It would not only be large, it would be dangerous. On any particular day, 46,500 people would be driving drunk.

Here’s the strange thing: about 80 percent of females and three-quarters of males in that fully-drunk-driving population thought that driving under the influence was a threat to their safety and the safety of others.  But that didn’t stop them from doing it.

And why do fewer males believe that drunk driving is dangerous?

Of course, there is no country of drunk drivers – those 17 million people are scattered all over the United States. Most of them get away with their crime – at least for a while – but a still-staggering number cause injury and death, and still more are arrested before they have a chance to do harm. We have to deal with them in our country, by catching them, punishing them, preventing further offenses with ignition interlocks, and when possible, by educating them to choose alternatives like designated drivers.

But the best thing we can all do for the Country of Drunk Drivers is not to visit it – ever.

arizona-drunk-driving-crashesTrying to make sense of road safety data can be a frustrating exercise. A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA), for instance, notes that road deaths in Arizona rose last year by more than 7 percent. The total number of fatalities was 962, up from 897 the year before.

Cause for distress? Certainly. But it can’t be overlooked that fatal Arizona drunk driving crashes are down. Two years ago about 30 percent of road fatalities could be chalked up to alcohol. That jibes with national numbers. But last year alcohol could only be implicated in about 24 percent of deaths on the road.

That number is in opposition to national numbers, which rose for the second year in a row.

What is Arizona Doing Right?

Some of the success in driving down drunk driving numbers is probably due to the state’s no-tolerance attitude towards DUI.

A standard (alcohol level of .08 to .14 percent BAC) first DUI will result a fine of $1,250 and up to 10 days in jail. An ignition interlock is also mandatory for all DUIs.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Extreme DUIs (with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 percent or greater result in greater penalties: a $2,500 fine and a month in jail. Repeat offenses require even stiffer punishments.

The Turning Point: The All-Offender Ignition Interlock Law

Arizona’s ignition interlock law is not only one of the best in the country – it’s also one of the first, having been passed in 2007. The state got serious about making its roads safer, and its citizens are still reaping the benefits.

No one can be sure that this trend – if it is a trend – is the result of laws, or some other as-yet undiscovered factor. But in general roads don’t get safer by themselves. Hard work by legislators, courts, police and public safety advocates was what brought about the state’s decline in alcohol-related road deaths.

Let’s watch the numbers and see if Arizona continues to resist the disturbing national rise in drunk driving deaths.


benefits of ignition interlocksThe trend for states to adopt ignition interlocks for drunk driving offenses is on the rise. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 29 states mandate the devices for all such offenses, including first offenses. What was once thought to be a remedy for hard-core repeat offenders is now known to be a sensible measure to ensure that all offenders are sober behind the wheel. The enforced interlock period leads to a reduction in DUI recidivism.

But some people don’t realize that there are more benefits to the devices beyond the obvious one of halting a drunk driver. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has outlined the benefits of ignition interlocks for offending drivers, other motorists and society as a whole:

  • Offenders Keeps Their Legal Driving Status. Because offenders can still drive, they can maintain their jobs, get their kids to school, drive to counseling or substance abuse treatment sessions. In areas where public transportation is not abundant, this can mean the difference between success and failure of the program.
  • Families Approve of Ignition Interlocks. Not surprisingly, a UK study found that the families of offenders who use the devices approved of them. The interlocks reassured them that their loved one was safe on the road. The respondents also reported that the devices had a positive effect on the offender’s drinking habits.
  • Interlocks Help Predict Future Behavior. As it turns out, how an offender handles his or her ignition interlock breath tests is a good predictor of whether or not that person will be back in court. Those who did well with the interlock generally did well afterwards, and those who consistently failed tests had higher rates of recidivism. This means that the data from ignition interlocks, which is downloaded and reviewed by authorities regularly, is useful in determining whether full driving privileges should be restored. This practice, called compliance-based removal, is in place in a number of states.
  • Interlocks are Cost-Effective. Generally an interlock costs $2 to $3 per day, less than a drink at a bar. The cost is borne by the offender, not the state. Compared to incarceration, ignition interlocks are a bargain, and one with better results overall.

Of course, one of the main benefits of ignition interlocks will always be their ability to keep a drunk driver off the road. But legislators should not lose sight of the other advantages that the devices bring to the table, advantages which lead to safer roads and a second chance at a sober and responsible life.

police-are-watching-you-so-drive-soberIf you get the feeling that you’re being watched while you’re driving these days, you probably are. The US Department of Transportation wants it that way. Every summer the USDOT rolls out its “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which targets impaired drivers.

Why summer? Because summer is, sadly the time when drunk drivers come out in force. Students on break, campers, vacationers, and everyone else trying to cram as much partying and social life as they can into the warm summer days and evenings. drive-sober-or-get-pulled-over-by-police They drink too much, or too long, or both, and suddenly find themselves without a designated driver. They head home with too much alcohol in their systems. Many make it home, and some do not. About 10,000 people die each year in alcohol related collisions. Not all of them are drunk drivers. They are passengers, victims in another vehicle, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

Summer drinking is why more than 10,000 police departments and other law enforcement agencies across America are participating in Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over. The campaign has two parts:

  1. Cracking down on drunk driving. Police are dedicating more officers to the task of spotting drunk drivers. They’ll be watching for drivers who raise alarm bells, and will make a priority of stopping anyone they think is under the influence
  2. Educating drivers about the folly of drunk driving

The most recent PSAs don’t focus on the dangers of impaired driving, but rather the social and economic effects (the cost of a DWI and the requirement for an ignition interlock) and the sheer inevitability of getting caught. The reason for this is that young males are still the most likely group to drink and drive, and that group is by and large more concerned about social standing than public safety.

Perhaps seeing the consequences of a DWI conviction will have an effect on how many people make the bad decision to get behind the wheel while impaired. But even if it doesn’t, those eyes will be watching you and everyone else on the roadways.

DUI - Roll The DiceLet’s talk about odds for a minute. If you drive a vehicle, the odds are that you’ll get into some kind of collision every 17.9 years.  That’s at least four accidents over an average lifetime.

Of course, many factors can change your likelihood of a crash:

  • Driving while distracted
  • Speeding and other risky driving habits
  • Driving nights and weekends

And the big one:

  • Impairment

It goes without saying that if you drive drunk or drugged, your likelihood of a crash will skyrocket. But even if you don’t drink and drive, the presence of other drunk drivers on the road is a danger to you. And there’s not much you can do about them.

Except avoid them. The best way to beat the odds of a DUI crash is to be safe at home when the impaired drivers are out on the road, and fortunately, that’s not too difficult. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ( NHTSA), most fatal crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers – 55 percent – happen between midnight and 3 a.m.

The second most dangerous time is 9 pm to midnight, a time at which 36 percent of DUI crashes occur. Fewest – only 5 percent – happen 9 a.m. to noon. The reason for this discrepancy is obvious. In the morning hours, the only ones under the influence are hard-core alcoholics and those who are still drunk from the night before. Most social drinkers are out in the evenings, and the wee hours are when those partying the hardest are on their way home.

As for the time of week, there too the evidence is clear: 15 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes during the week were alcohol-impaired, compared to 30 percent on weekends.

So if you are the type to worry about the harm that might come to you on the roads, make an effort to be home safe by midnight, especially on weekends. Next to staying sober at the wheel, it’s the best way to beat the odds.


Today’s post comes to us from fellow ignition interlock provider, LifeSafer.

You don’t use drugs. You drink rarely. And you’d never, ever get behind the wheel if you have had so much as a tablespoon of beer. That’s how careful you are about keeping yourself, your loved ones and the roads free of danger. But you might still be a menace to public safety. Have you ever:

– Gotten behind the wheel after a hard day’s work that followed a bad night’s sleep?
– Forced yourself out of bed and into a car because you just had to be somewhere that morning?
– Found your attention flagging so that you drifted onto the rumble strip on the highway?

Many otherwise conscientious people who would never dream of driving drunk — who are proud of their adamant refusal to drive even after a single glass of wine — nevertheless think nothing of drowsy driving. Somehow, it seems less risky. But the facts are that drowsy drivers have:

– poor motor skills
– poor vision
– slow response
– impaired judgment

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that drowsy driving causes no less than 100,000 accidents every year, resulting in 40,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths. No doubt you’ve tried to wake yourself up using some common strategies. A recent study by the marketing company DMEAutomotive found that drivers most often fight drowsy driving by drinking caffeinated drinks. This works for a while, but coffee will not drive off drowsiness completely or for very long. Other strategies many use to combat drowsy driving include:

– opening windows
– playing loud music on the stereo
– turning up the air conditioning
– splashing water on your face

Unfortunately, these tactics have little lasting effect: after a few minutes you will still be as much a hazard on the road as a driver who has been drinking. The good thing is that, unlike drinkers, you have a relatively quick cure at your disposal: pull over and take a nap. Sleeping for at least 20 minutes, and up to 3 hours depending on how tired you are, will set you right. Now one more piece of bad news: drivers under 35 tend not to avail themselves of naps, preferring instead the ineffective methods above. Maybe it’s time to talk to your teen about drowsy driving.

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