Alcohol-impaired driving remains the deadliest and costliest danger on U.S. roads today, and the resulting fatalities significantly exceed the number of deaths from distracted driving and drugged driving. On average since 1982, one-third of all traffic fatalities are due to alcohol-impaired driving–nearly 40 percent of whom are victims other than the impaired driver. Though progress to address this issue was seen in the 1980s to early 2000s, it has stagnated recently, and more than 10,000 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities still occur each year in the U.S. In 2010, the total economic cost of these crashes was $121.5 billion.
Even though the causes of alcohol-impaired driving are complex and multifaceted, these deaths are entirely preventable, and many actions already proven to be effective as well as other promising strategies exist to deal with this persistent public health and safety problem, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Stakeholders–from transportation systems to alcohol retailers to law enforcement–should work together to implement policies and systems to eliminate these deaths. Most strategies to reduce alcohol-impaired driving have focused on decreasing the likelihood that someone will drive after they are already impaired by alcohol through traditional enforcement and criminal justice approaches, but broadening the focus to also encompass reducing drinking to the point of impairment is critically important.
It can be difficult for individuals to understand how many alcoholic beverages it will take for them to become impaired, though. People differ in their degree of impairment due to several factors such as weight, age, sex, race, and ability to metabolize alcohol, the report says. In addition, inconsistent serving sizes and the combination of alcohol with caffeine and energy drinks, among other factors, undermine individuals’ ability to estimate their level of impairment.
In all 50 states, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit proscribed by state laws for drivers age 21 or older is 0.08 percent, and even lower thresholds apply for drivers under age 21. The committee that wrote the report found that an individual’s ability to operate any motor vehicle begins to deteriorate at BAC levels lower than 0.08 percent, increasing a driver’s risk of being in a crash. In addition, studies from countries that have decreased their BAC laws to 0.05 percent, such as Austria, Denmark, and Japan, demonstrate that this is an effective policy to reduce fatalities. Therefore, the report recommends, state governments should enact laws criminalizing alcohol-impaired driving at 0.05 percent BAC, the federal government should incentivize this change, and enacting the new BAC limit should be accompanied by media campaigns and robust and visible enforcement efforts.
Alcohol-impaired driving is extremely expensive in terms of medical costs, earnings and productivity losses, legal costs, and vehicle damage. Strong evidence shows that higher alcohol taxes can reduce binge drinking and alcohol-related motor vehicle crash fatalities, yet alcohol taxes have declined in inflation-adjusted terms at both federal and state levels, and taxes do not cover the costs attributable to alcohol-related harms. The report recommends that federal and state governments should increase alcohol taxes significantly.
As another strategy to reduce drinking to impairment, state and local governments should take appropriate steps to reduce alcohol availability, including placing restrictions on the number of on- and off-premises outlets and the days and hours of alcohol sales, the report says. Off-premises outlets are establishments where alcohol is sold but cannot be consumed, such as supermarkets, and on-premises outlets are establishments where alcohol is sold for consumption on-site, such as bars and restaurants. Federal, state, and local governments should also adopt or strengthen laws and dedicate enforcement resources to stop illegal alcohol sales to already-intoxicated adults and people under 21. Standards for permissible alcohol marketing should be strengthened, too, as young people are at higher risk of driving under the influence and are readily swayed by such marketing.
Sobriety checkpoints, which aim to identify and arrest alcohol-impaired drivers as well as increase the perceived risk of arrest to deter driving while impaired, have been shown to be effective in both rural and urban areas when widely publicized. The report also recommends increasing alternative transportation options, especially in rural areas, which are disproportionately affected by alcohol-impaired crashes and fatalities.
There were more than 1 million arrests for driving under the influence in 2015. About 20 percent to 28 percent of first-time DWI offenders will repeat the offense, and repeat offenders are 62 percent more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. DWI courts, which are specialized courts whose purpose is to change behavior of high-need offenders through comprehensive monitoring and substance abuse treatment, have a positive track record at reducing repeat offense rates and should be implemented by all states. To ensure tailored treatment for offenders who need it, the committee recommended effective evaluation, prevention, and treatment strategies for binge drinking and alcohol use disorders, including screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT), cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication-assisted therapy.
All states also should require ignition interlocks–breath alcohol analyzers connected to the ignition system of a vehicle–for all offenders. States and other countries that have done so have experienced reductions in alcohol-related motor vehicle crash deaths. In addition, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety (DADSS) is a promising in-vehicle technology that prevents a vehicle from operating when the driver’s BAC exceeds the limit set by state law. Its eventual use could be enhanced through insurance policy discounts for drivers who adopt it.
In order to ensure coordination across federal agencies, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should create a federal interagency coordinating committee to develop and oversee an integrated strategy, ensure collaboration, maintain accountability, and share information among organizations committed to reducing alcohol-impaired driving.– Dana Korsen
Citation (MLA) :
Korsen, Dana. “Alcohol-Impaired Driving: The Deadliest Danger on the Road Today.” The National Academies in Focus, 2018, pp. 3-6. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://sks.sirs.com.
Citation (APA) :
Korsen, D. (2018, Alcohol-impaired driving: The deadliest danger on the road today. The National Academies in Focus, , 3-6. Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com