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Fatality Facts 2021Alcohol

Overview

The probability of a fatal crash rises significantly after 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and even more rapidly after 0.08%. Zador, P. L., Krawchuck, S., & Voas, R. B. (2000). Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: An update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol,  61, 387-395. Voas, R. B., Torres, P., Romano, E., & Lacey, J. H. (2012). Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: An update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 341-350.

Drivers with very high BACs (at or above 0.15%) have a very high risk of dying in a crash or getting severely injured. Zador, P. L., Krawchuck, S., & Voas, R. B. (2000). Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: An update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol,  61, 387-395. , Peck, R. C., Gebers, M. A., Voas, R. B., & Romano, E. (2008). The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 311-319.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have per se laws making it a crime to drive with a BAC at or above 0.08%. In Utah, it's a crime to drive with a BAC of 0.05% or above.

Substantial progress was made from 1982 to the mid-1990s in reducing the numbers and proportion of fatally injured drivers with BACs at or above 0.08%. However, little subsequent progress has been made, and alcohol-impaired driving is still a major problem. Institute research estimates that 25% of crash deaths could be prevented each year if all drivers with BACs of 0.08% or higher were kept off the roads. Farmer, C. M. (2021). Potential lives saved by in-vehicle alcohol detection systems. Traffic Injury Prevention, 22, 7-12.

At the same BAC, drivers younger than 21 are far more likely than older drivers to get into a fatal or nonfatal crash. Zador, P. L., Krawchuck, S., & Voas, R. B. (2000). Alcohol-related relative risk of driver fatalities and driver involvement in fatal crashes in relation to driver age and gender: An update using 1996 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol,  61, 387-395. Voas, R. B., Torres, P., Romano, E., & Lacey, J. H. (2012). Alcohol-related risk of driver fatalities: An update using 2007 data. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73(3), 341-350. Peck, R. C., Gebers, M. A., Voas, R. B., & Romano, E. (2008). The relationship between blood alcohol concentration (BAC), age, and crash risk. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 311-319.The minimum drinking age is 21 throughout the United States. In addition, all states have “zero tolerance” laws that prohibit people younger than 21 from driving after drinking. The percentage of fatally injured 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08% now is substantially lower than drivers ages 21-50.

The following facts are based on analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s . The data are from all 50 states and the District of Columbia with imputations for missing BACs provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation's multiple imputation model. Subramanian, R. (2002). Transitioning to multiple imputation — A new method to impute missing blood alcohol concentration (BAC) values in FARS (Report no. DOT HS-809-403). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Posted May 2023.

Who is killed

In 2021, the individuals most often killed in crashes involving at least one alcohol-impaired driver (BAC ≥ 0.08%) were alcohol-impaired drivers (8,089 deaths), followed by occupants of other vehicles (2,085 deaths), nonoccupants (1,607 deaths), and passengers riding with an alcohol-impaired driver (1,603 deaths).
Fatalities in crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC ≥ 0.08%, 2021
Age Alcohol-Impaired Drivers Passengers Riding With Alcohol-Impaired Drivers Occupants of Other Vehicles Nonoccupants Total*
Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths % Deaths %
0-15 10 0 173 11 115 5 34 2 332 2
16-20 465 6 249 16 193 9 78 5 986 7
21-30 2,339 29 497 31 391 19 270 17 3,497 26
31-40 1,934 24 250 16 341 16 326 20 2,851 21
41-50 1,302 16 170 11 281 13 259 16 2,013 15
51-60 1,123 14 112 7 296 14 286 18 1,818 14
61-70 597 7 65 4 231 11 213 13 1,106 8
>70 305 4 74 5 228 11 114 7 721 5
Total* 8,089 100 1,603 100 2,085 100 1,607 100 13,384 100

Age and sex

Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2021, a higher proportion of males than females had BACs at or above 0.08% at every age. Overall, 33% of males and 23% of females had BACs at or above 0.08%. The percentage was highest among males ages 21-30. The lowest percentage was observed among females older than 70. 
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08% by driver age and sex, 2021
Age Male Female Total*
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
16-20 1,220 318 26 487 94 19 1,710 413 24
21-30 3,274 1,456 44 1,219 444 36 4,496 1,903 42
31-40 2,639 1,106 42 1,066 328 31 3,712 1,436 39
41-50 1,943 728 37 720 185 26 2,665 914 34
51-60 1,940 605 31 742 147 20 2,683 751 28
61-70 1,617 347 21 610 76 12 2,229 423 19
>70 1,814 204 11 872 53 6 2,689 258 10
Total* 14,498 4,773 33 5,735 1,329 23 20,261 6,115 30
Among fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2021, 24% of males and 17% of females had BACs at or above 0.15%.
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.15% by driver age and sex, 2021
Age Male Female Total*
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
16-20 1,220 208 17 487 63 13 1,710 272 16
21-30 3,274 1,067 33 1,219 318 26 4,496 1,388 31
31-40 2,639 841 32 1,066 251 24 3,712 1,093 29
41-50 1,943 561 29 720 144 20 2,665 706 26
51-60 1,940 470 24 742 114 15 2,683 584 22
61-70 1,617 250 15 610 55 9 2,229 306 14
>70 1,814 136 7 872 35 4 2,689 172 6
Total* 14,498 3,541 24 5,735 984 17 20,261 4,534 22
Since the 1980s, the percentage of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08% has declined more among 16-20-year-olds than among older drivers. The percentage of fatally injured 16-20-year-old passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08% now is substantially lower than drivers ages 21-50. 
Percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08% by driver age, 1982-2021
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs ≥ 0.08% by driver age, 1982-2021
Year 16-20 years 21-30 years 31-40 years 41-50 years >50 years
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08
Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number % Number Number %
1982 3,456 1,826 53 6,244 3,948 63 3,352 1,980 59 1,935 1,023 53 4,574 1,206 26
1983 3,326 1,681 51 6,053 3,859 64 3,383 1,982 59 1,847 853 46 4,615 1,108 24
1984 3,441 1,595 46 6,413 3,885 61 3,549 1,892 53 1,949 890 46 4,839 1,077 22
1985 3,227 1,260 39 6,263 3,659 58 3,430 1,842 54 2,071 914 44 4,940 957 19
1986 3,636 1,495 41 6,695 3,974 59 3,801 1,997 53 2,007 896 45 5,234 994 19
1987 3,630 1,315 36 6,802 3,975 58 4,049 2,151 53 2,128 896 42 5,402 968 18
1988 3,788 1,358 36 6,819 3,991 59 4,130 2,200 53 2,400 1,011 42 5,615 992 18
1989 3,536 1,225 35 6,475 3,675 57 4,130 2,168 52 2,558 1,100 43 5,713 1,004 18
1990 3,397 1,198 35 6,152 3,510 57 4,135 2,263 55 2,519 1,045 41 5,620 930 17
1991 3,021 1,044 35 5,623 3,183 57 3,831 2,111 55 2,479 1,049 42 5,491 833 15
1992 2,697 829 31 5,122 2,759 54 3,734 1,993 53 2,416 970 40 5,489 860 16
1993 2,805 795 28 5,065 2,658 52 3,826 2,003 52 2,475 975 39 5,737 873 15
1994 2,990 800 27 4,975 2,484 50 3,858 1,923 50 2,631 1,024 39 6,036 824 14
1995 2,983 725 24 5,081 2,585 51 4,118 2,090 51 2,854 1,147 40 6,275 918 15
1996 3,026 769 25 4,989 2,475 50 4,061 1,984 49 2,937 1,137 39 6,480 949 15
1997 3,036 774 25 4,775 2,275 48 3,913 1,947 50 2,994 1,124 38 6,870 934 14
1998 3,094 767 25 4,577 2,222 49 3,912 1,831 47 3,140 1,184 38 6,787 915 13
1999 3,261 849 26 4,653 2,260 49 3,821 1,799 47 3,131 1,176 38 6,918 891 13
2000 3,250 844 26 4,706 2,268 48 3,724 1,767 47 3,255 1,268 39 6,764 963 14
2001 3,247 823 25 4,735 2,358 50 3,643 1,700 47 3,300 1,334 40 6,847 972 14
2002 3,452 873 25 4,938 2,462 50 3,678 1,696 46 3,449 1,360 39 6,879 964 14
2003 3,260 858 26 4,852 2,308 48 3,453 1,534 44 3,420 1,352 40 7,084 1,044 15
2004 3,175 815 26 4,970 2,372 48 3,333 1,414 42 3,438 1,276 37 6,918 1,053 15
2005 2,985 734 25 5,067 2,492 49 3,372 1,526 45 3,358 1,290 38 7,079 1,036 15
2006 3,020 831 28 5,159 2,535 49 3,288 1,511 46 3,263 1,216 37 6,770 1,052 16
2007 2,728 766 28 5,028 2,592 52 2,992 1,408 47 3,060 1,211 40 6,645 1,056 16
2008 2,292 626 27 4,388 2,327 53 2,656 1,300 49 2,718 1,068 39 6,154 940 15
2009 2,049 609 30 3,870 2,020 52 2,399 1,127 47 2,623 1,107 42 5,847 923 16
2010 1,675 438 26 3,697 1,816 49 2,414 1,086 45 2,312 914 40 5,887 914 16
2011 1,722 488 28 3,612 1,747 48 2,230 987 44 2,218 871 39 5,745 962 17
2012 1,624 436 27 3,748 1,803 48 2,391 1,099 46 2,188 872 40 5,926 988 17
2013 1,381 360 26 3,671 1,788 49 2,336 1,058 45 2,138 850 40 6,018 1,049 17
2014 1,434 344 24 3,636 1,707 47 2,317 987 43 2,042 752 37 6,025 1,110 18
2015 1,591 348 22 3,860 1,658 43 2,522 1,067 42 2,121 744 35 6,491 1,090 17
2016 1,591 330 21 4,205 1,812 43 2,726 1,114 41 2,218 781 35 6,857 1,102 16
2017 1,483 322 22 4,057 1,721 42 2,830 1,125 40 2,282 767 34 7,056 1,174 17
2018 1,439 289 20 3,962 1,674 42 2,711 1,062 39 2,158 736 34 6,958 1,191 17
2019 1,334 286 21 3,639 1,552 43 2,736 1,063 39 2,148 710 33 6,985 1,174 17
2020 1,579 391 25 4,258 1,747 41 3,150 1,236 39 2,393 830 35 6,864 1,318 19
2021 1,710 413 24 4,496 1,903 42 3,712 1,436 39 2,665 914 34 7,601 1,433 19

When alcohol-impaired crashes occur

Alcohol involvement in fatal crashes peaks at night. Between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., 49% of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in 2021 had BACs at or above 0.08%, compared with 20% during other hours.
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by nighttime vs. other times, 2021
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
9 p.m. - 6 a.m. 6,990 3,453 49 2,584 37
Other hours 13,271 2,662 20 1,950 15
Total 20,261 6,115 30 4,534 22
The three-hour period with the highest percentage of driver fatalities with BACs of 0.08% or higher is midnight to 3 a.m.
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by time of day, 2021
Time of day Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
Midnight - 3 a.m. 2,505 1,432 57 1,084 43
3 a.m. - 6 a.m. 1,820 788 43 573 31
6 a.m. - 9 a.m. 2,240 371 17 253 11
9 a.m. - noon 2,158 244 11 182 8
Noon - 3 p.m. 2,758 350 13 252 9
3 p.m. - 6 p.m. 3,110 655 21 484 16
6 p.m. - 9 p.m. 2,834 958 34 714 25
9 p.m. - midnight 2,665 1,233 46 928 35
Total* 20,261 6,115 30 4,534 22
Forty-one percent of passenger vehicle drivers fatally injured on weekends (6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday) in 2021 had BACs at or above 0.08%, compared with 23% at other times.
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with high BACs by weekend vs. other times, 2021
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number %
Weekend (6 p.m. Friday - 6 a.m. Monday) 7,933 3,277 41 2,434 31
Other times 12,328 2,838 23 2,101 17
Total 20,261 6,115 30 4,534 22
Alcohol involvement is very high in fatal nighttime (9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) single-vehicle crashes. In 2021, 59% of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers in these crashes had BACs at or above 0.08%, and 44% had BACs at or above 0.15%. Five percent had BACs of 0.01% to 0.07%.
Estimated number and percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers by BAC, time, and crash type, 2021
Drivers killed Estimated drivers killed with BACs = 0 Estimated drivers killed with 0.01 ≤ BACs ≤ 0.07 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.08 Estimated drivers killed with BACs ≥ 0.15
Number Number % Number % Number % Number %
Single vehicle Night 3,992 1,434 36 211 5 2,346 59 1,773 44
Day 5,034 3,327 66 179 4 1,527 30 1,148 23
Multiple vehicle Night 2,998 1,724 57 168 6 1,107 37 812 27
Day 8,066 6,757 84 257 3 1,052 13 736 9
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