Study Reveals Increased Rate of Impaired Drivers

F.J. Thomas

Washington, DC ( – Alcohol related deaths are down but more drivers admit to driving impaired, according to a recent report released by Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc. (TIRF USA) and sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Foundation. The 2019 USA Road Safety Monitor (USA RSM) polled 2,526 drives over the age of 21 in September for the fifth year.

Per statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher accounted for 28 percent of vehicle fatalities in 2018, a total of 10,511 deaths. The number represents a 3.6 percent decrease from 2017, in which 29.1 percent of vehicle fatalities involved impaired drivers. The decrease is in spite of an increase in miles driven of .3 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Of the drivers polled by the TIRF report, 60 percent expressed that they were extremely concerned about drunk driving and 78 percent believed that alcohol impaired driving was a serious safety concern. However, when asked whether or not they had driven while intoxicated, the response statistics told a different story.

The number of drivers that reported driving with a blood alcohol content over the legal limit within the last 12 months nearly doubled from 11.6 percent in 2018 to 20 percent in 2019. This was the highest percentage of impaired drivers in all five years of data.

Additionally, an increase was revealed in the number of drivers who frequently drove while impaired. In 2018, only 3.4 percent of the drivers polled reported driving while impaired on a regular basis. That percentage more than tripled at 11.1 percent reported in 2019.

When asked why they thought driving impaired was permissible, 39.4 percent indicated that they thought they were okay to drive even though they believed they had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit. In 2018, the percentage was even higher at 50.7 percent. When viewed as a four year total, the average was 45.6 percent.

The poll also revealed some insight into drivers’ assessments of their skills while driving impaired. Of those questioned, 10.4 percent believed that they would drive carefully regardless of intoxication, and 9.8 percent believed they would not get caught. Familiarity of route was also cited as a reason for 6.6 percent of drivers.

Older drivers were less likely to drive while impaired. The percentage of drivers over the age of 60 that reported driving while over the legal limit was 8 percent. The percentage reported for drivers 40 to 59 was 8.9 percent. By comparison, 21.8 percent of younger drivers stated they had driven while under the influence of alcohol.

Males were twice as likely to drive with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit, and almost three times as likely to drive frequently in that condition. Of the male drivers questioned, 16.8 percent reported driving impaired and 7.9 percent reported driving frequently while intoxicated. By comparison, 8.2 percent of women reported driving while over the legal limit, and only 2.8 percent reported driving frequently while impaired.

Ward Vanlaar, COO of TIRF Canada is troubled by the trend stating, “While more data are needed to monitor trends, the significant increase in self-reported alcohol-impaired driving is a concern. It is an early warning that the number of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities in 2019 may increase without continued and increased efforts”.

The full report is available on the TIRF website.

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