DUI And DWI Statistics
While the amount of driving under the influence (DUIs) and driving while intoxicated (DWIs) offenses have decreased over time, drunk driving still causes deadly consequences for drivers on the road and the families of people involved in crashes.
- Accidents: Each year alcohol is involved in 1/3rd of all US traffic accidents.
- Deaths: Over 10,000 people die every year in the US due to drunk driving.
- Cost: Drunk driving has been measured to cost the US anywhere from $110 billion to $135 billion each year.
- Demographics: The ages of 21-34 were the most likely to be involved in drunk driving incidents and men are much more likely than women to charged with driving drunk.
Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
The level of alcohol in the blood determines the severity of the DUI conviction in most cases. When alcohol is tested via breathalyzer, a .08% BAC result is the legal limit allowed to be behind the wheel. Police officers can use a breathalyzer device to analyze someone’s breath and approximate their current BAC. The higher the BAC, the more pronounced the effects of the alcohol (e.g., slower reaction time, visual impairment, decreased coordination etc.), and the less safe the driver.
Alcohol In The Body
Like anything else, the body tries to metabolize alcohol throughout the digestive tract, the liver, and filter through the kidneys. When drinking large amounts of alcohol, the liver gets overwhelmed and can’t properly break it down as it normally would. From there, the byproducts of metabolized alcohol make it into the bloodstream and circulates around the body. As the alcohol interacts with different parts of the body, it elicits the common effects associated with drunkenness.
Dangerous Effects Of Alcohol While Driving
The more intoxicated someone is, the less they can safely and effectively drive. Effects of impairment like lack of coordination and poor judgement put people at risk for car and pedestrian accidents. People have different body types and as such, it’s difficult to provide clean cut answers for what constitutes impairment or too much to drink before driving. Keeping that in mind, there are progressive symptoms of impairment that are indicators that someone should not be driving.
Tipsy And The Legal Limit
Below the BAC legal limit, people may feel the euphoria and slightly lowered inhibitions. It’s rare for significant physical impairment to occur at this level of drinking. When reaching .08% BAC many people experience a slight impairment of their speech, vision, reaction time, and judgement. For someone with a small build this level of impairment may arrive within a few drinks, while a larger person requires much more alcohol comparatively.
Past The Legal Limit
Once an individual passes .08% BAC it becomes clear why it’s illegal to drive. From .10% to .19% BAC, the drinker loses significant coordination abilities. At this point, speech is slurred and vision is blurred. Balance, which people use to accurately sense what direction they are driving and whether or not they’re in their lane is also significantly impaired. Towards the end of this spectrum nausea is common. Approaching .2% BAC is when many people might use the term “sloppy drunk”.
Beyond .2% BAC individuals will experience profound impairment and possibly unconsciousness. Nausea and vomiting are likely symptoms at this stage of intoxication. Alcohol poisoning usually occurs starting at high .2%, and mid .3% is where someone may be endangering their life with the alcohol consumption alone. The lethal BAC level is usually .4% which is accompanied by loss of consciousness leading to coma and possible death. The highest blood alcohol level ever recorded was a 1.480%, nearly 4 times the lethal level and it was found on a man who had just crashed his car. It’s clear that levels of intoxication past .08% BAC provide extreme risks for operating motor vehicles. The more severe the impairment, the higher the risk and punishment if someone is arrested.
Why Do People Drink And Drive
No one starts a night of drinking with the intention of driving drunk, but DUIs and DWIs always start somewhere. Oftentimes, it’s the way alcohol blunts people’s judgement that allows them to arrive at the decision that they are sober enough to get behind the wheel. Interviews with people recently convicted with a DUI found that they may think they can’t stay the night at where they are, or that they need to give someone else a ride who has something important to do the next day.
Different states have different consequences for DUIs and DWIs. Most sentences carry some form of a mandatory minimum in the form of either a fine, interlock (a device put on the vehicle that requires the driver to periodically provide a breathalyzer), education, or time in jail.
- Driver’s License: Most states suspend the license of the intoxicated driver regardless of the severity of the charge.
- Fines: First time offenders are charged hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars. Repeat offenders receive much heavier fines.
- Jail Time: Mandatory jail time is common in DUI cases. First offenders may only spend a day to a few days in jail, but repeat offenders spend 2 or more weeks longer on average.
- Education and therapy: While less common than the other punishments, some states are requiring offending drivers to attend classes that teach harm reduction, the effects of alcohol, proper alcohol use, dangers of driving under the influence, and suggestions for abstinence.
Arizona caries the harshest penalties, where a first time DUI offense can result in up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Many other states employ similar approaches to DUIs in order to dissuade people from making this dangerous decision.
While they’re in the minority, some states don’t punish DUIs as heavily. South Dakota is 1 of the 6 states that have no mandatory minimum sentencing and Pennsylvania doesn’t have a mandatory license suspension in place.
After An Arrest
Getting a DUI or DWI may feel like it is the end of the world, but it can be the start of something fresh and new. Taking an honest look at problematic drinking habits is a hard, but necessary step in the journey of recovery. Unfortunately, it’s events like a driving while intoxicated charge that may motivate people to become aware of the ways in which their alcohol habits are causing problems in their lives.
If you have been charged with a DUI or DWI or you’ve driven under the impairing effects of alcohol and have not been caught, please reach out for help. Contact a treatment provider who have resources available around the clock that can help. Don’t face this problem alone, get help today.
Author: Michael Muldoon | Last Edited: October 4, 2021
Medical Reviewer: Dayna Smith-Slade