Alcoholism & Addiction

Societal Effects of Drunk Driving

By any estimates, drunk driving wreaks a staggering toll on society. First, there’s the incalculable loss of human life. Who can put a dollar estimate on that? Besides an actuary, no one would dare say how much a human life is worth – certainly not in terms of what that individual’s loss of life means to surviving family members and loved ones. Still, there are some statistics that we can reasonably point to that help paint a picture of the societal effects of drunk driving.

Sobering Statistics

No one is immune to the effects of drunk driving in society.

• According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 37,261 people died in traffic crashes in 2008 (the latest data available), including 11,773 people who were killed in drunk-driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater.

• Today, each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia has laws that prohibit driving with a BAC of .08 percent or above. This is due, in large part, to the efforts of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). All states also now have laws mandating 21 as the legal age to drink.

• It is estimated that about 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some point during their lives.

• Someone is killed every 45 minutes in the United States by a drunk driver.

• Traffic crashes are the number one killer of teens (ages 15 to 20), and 31 percent of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

• A staggering 50 to 75 percent of drunk drivers whose licenses are suspended continue to drive.

• A first-time drunk driving offender has driven drunk 87 times, on average, before being arrested.

• A 2008 poll by AAA found that 80 percent of those surveyed supported requiring drivers who have been convicted of a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence) to use equipment that tests them for alcohol (an ignition interlock device). That same poll showed that 88 percent thought drunk driving is a serious traffic safety concern.

• According to statistics published by NHTSA, in 2000, alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost society an estimated $114.3 billion dollars. This included $51.1 billion in monetary costs and an estimated $63.2 billion in quality of life losses. People other than the drinking driver paid $71.6 billion of the alcohol-related crash bill, which is 63 percent of the total cost of the crashes. More than a decade later, the costs are likely many times greater – even though total drunk driving arrests are down, due to many reasons, including an increased focus on reducing drunk driving, punishing offenders, stricter sentencing, efforts at educating young people about the dangers of drinking and driving and alcohol use.

Millions of Lives Ruined

Beyond dollar estimates, the loss of human life for surviving family members and friends is a pain that never really goes away. Some families are shattered by the death of their loved one. Others try to bury their grief and stumble through life as if half-dead themselves, refusing to allow themselves to ever feel joy again.

Another point to consider is the after-effects or consequences of drunk driving to the drunk driver. He or she has to live with the knowledge that their actions resulted in serious injury or death of others. There may be a rupture in the family dynamic as the individual has to serve jail time, may lose a job, spouse, or custody of children. In addition, the convicted drunk driver faces fines, court costs, treatment costs, and increased insurance – if he or she doesn’t lose their driving license temporarily or permanently.

In short, millions of lives may be ruined – or severely impacted by drunk driving.

Efforts to Curb Drunk Driving

Various efforts have combined to help reduce the number of drunk drivers and drunk driving traffic accidents. These include, but are not limited to:

• Education programs
• Restrictions on alcohol advertising
• Increased use of sobriety checkpoints
• Increasing the number of police stops of suspected drunk drivers during high-risk periods (holidays, summer vacation, and weekends)
• Use of breathalyzers
• Suspension or revocation of driver’s license
• Imposing a graduated system of licensing for young drivers
• Impounding, confiscating or immobilizing vehicles of drunk drivers
• Confiscating license plates of drunk drivers or, in some states, issuing special license plates to convicted drunk drivers
• Requiring installation of ignition interlock devices on vehicles of convicted drunk drivers
• Requiring alcohol assessment, counseling, or treatment programs for convicted drunk drivers
• In lieu of incarceration, confining drunk drivers to their homes
• Closely monitoring high-risk drunk drivers
• Reducing the consumption of alcohol
• Suing servers in establishments for serving alcohol to obviously-intoxicated patrons who then go on to injure or kill someone in a motor vehicle crash
• Enforcing laws prohibiting serving of alcohol to minors and persons who are intoxicated
• Providing alternative transportation to drivers who have been drinking
• Increase severity of penalties for drunk driving
• Incarcerating convicted drunk drivers
• Fining convicted drunk drivers
• Recovering costs from convicted drunk drivers
• Requiring drunk drivers to listen to victim impact panels

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