Drunk driving has been a problem since the advent of the automobile. Accidents and unintentional injuries remain at the top of the list of death causes in the United States to this day; many of these accidents involve drinking and driving. It is always possible to prevent drunk driving, in contrast to other causes of death, such as various diseases.
Alcohol consumption and even heavy drinking are almost as much a part of American culture as automobiles and the open road. However, mixing the two can result in serious consequences. You can learn about alcohol’s effect on driving, drunk driving statistics, and what happens if you drive drunk to better understand the situation.
Statistics About Drunk Driving
In the U.S., there is one alcohol-related death every 48 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2019, there were 10,142 drunk driving deaths, the lowest number NHTSA ever reported since 1982. Around 28 people die daily because of drunk driving.
The number of drunken driving deaths is unacceptable when all of them are preventable. Drinkers are not the only ones intoxicated driving kills. Passengers, other motorists, and pedestrians are also killed. In 2018, alcohol-related crashes caused more than 230 deaths among children under 15 years old.
In the United States, one in six adults binge drinks four times a month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The largest group of binge drinkers is between 25 and 34 years old, closely followed by young adults between 18 and 24 years old. During a binge, they consume an average of seven drinks in a short time.
High-school students binge drink at high rates, at over 15% of their age group. The amount of alcohol consumed by younger binge drinkers is greater when they binge. There is a 2-to-1 ratio between men and women when it comes to binge drinking. Underage drinkers may also take longer to process alcohol because their livers have not fully developed.
As well as auto accidents, binge drinking increases the risk of falls, burns, and alcohol poisoning, among other accidents. A high risk of homicide, suicide, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancy is also associated with binge drinking. In addition to alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and liver disease, long-term alcohol misuse can also cause various cancers.
Across the United States, the annual cost of alcohol-related crashes is estimated at around $44 billion from expenses like hospital bills, emergency response, and other things. Binge drinking and alcohol misuse are estimated to cost about $249 billion each year.
Drunk Driving: What Happens If You're Pulled Over?
If you’re driving drunk when you get pulled over, the officer likely already suspects you of driving under the influence unless you’re pulled over for some other reason, like speeding. In this case, they want to know if you’re driving drunk, so the officer will ask you questions to investigate a possible crime.
If a police officer stops you, they may ask you a series of questions or request a field sobriety test. State traffic laws vary, but for most states, you are legally required to show your license and registration.
Most states allow you to refuse to provide that information, but if the officer has enough information to justify an arrest, they will bring you to the station regardless of whether you provide additional information. As part of a police investigation, you may be required to take sobriety tests at the station. If you refuse, the consequences may be more severe than when you refuse to take a roadside test.
In some states, refusing a sobriety test at the station will result in your license being suspended. If the investigation shows you are above the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for driving, you will be charged with a DUI or DWI.
There is a possibility of being convicted of a crime once you have been charged, and a case can go to trial. If it’s your first offense, you may have to pay a fine, attend DUI classes, and lose your license. You may do jail time and community service and pay hefty fines, depending on whether it’s your first offense or your second.
What If I Get in an Accident?
If you are found at fault in a car accident while under the influence, penalties may be much worse. Your insurance company may hold you and you liable for damages if you are found at fault for the crash. If you cause an injury to another driver, you may be charged with a felony charge. The fines may be much more, even thousands of dollars.
The victims could also sue you for restitution, leading to thousands of dollars in medical bills and other expenses. Additionally, you may lose your license, spend time in jail or prison, and you could be liable for civil suits.
What If Someone Is Killed?
You may be charged with vehicular homicide, also called vehicular manslaughter, if you drive while drunk and cause a fatal accident. Any reckless driving offense, such as driving under the influence, drowsy driving, or distracted driving, can be charged with this type of crime.
You could face up to 15 years in prison, 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine if you’re convicted of vehicular homicide in your state or county. Regulations may be different where you live.
How Alcohol Affects Your Ability to Drive
Despite its central nervous system depressant properties, alcohol can also boost your energy level and make you hyperactive when your BAC rises. Alcohol is a psychoactive substance, which means that it can affect your mind. Alcohol can also affect your body and how your nervous system functions. But how does that make you less capable of driving when you’re under the influence?
Getting behind the wheel when you’re intoxicated is a serious and potentially fatal mistake. Your reaction time and ability to make judgments can be negatively impacted by even low levels of intoxication.
Despite your belief that you can drive home safely, you may not be able to adjust quickly to sudden changes in the road, like cars running stop signs or merging into your lane. When you’re sober, these things may be easy to handle, but while intoxicated, they can cause significant problems.
A person’s spatial awareness is their ability to judge distance, the size of spaces, and the time it may take an object to reach a particular place in space. If you combine these skills, it helps you navigate your body and your car safely around objects.
You may think you can merge into the next lane before an oncoming car reaches you when, in fact, you misjudged its speed. Alcohol impairs your spatial awareness, which can lead to a number of mistakes, such as thinking that there is enough space between two cars for you to merge.
In other words, your ability to grasp and manipulate things accurately may be diminished, which can make driving more challenging. Your hand-eye coordination has a direct influence on how you can move your hands to manipulate objects based on your vision.
Preventing Drunk Driving Injuries
When you drink alcohol, you may get into an accident with your friends or with another driver. The first and simplest option is to control yourself. Plan ahead when attending a party or visiting a place with alcohol. Decide if you’re going to drink (or not) and set limits for yourself.
Keeping limits when you’re drinking doesn’t just prevent drunk driving; it can also help you manage the rest of your night. If you plan to drink, use a designated driver or use a car or ride-sharing service.
Make firm commitments ahead of time and ask friends to hold you accountable if you plan to let a friend drive home. Since alcohol can impair your judgment and increase risk-taking behavior, you should hand over your keys immediately.
Do the same with your friends. Don’t get blackout drunk or lose the ability to make decisions for yourself, even if you aren’t driving. Getting extremely drunk could lower your defenses about being in a car with a drunk driver.
Sober drivers need to be vigilant on the road, especially late weekends and holidays when drunk drivers are most likely to be on the street. Watch out for people weaving, swerving, making wide turns, and responding slowly to road signals and signs.