Driving

States With the Most Drunk Driving Problems (2020)

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Drunk driving accidents led to 10,511 deaths in 2018. While that number has decreased in recent years, alcohol-impaired driving continues to account for nearly 30% of all traffic fatalities. Drunk driving is preventable, yet drivers still get behind the wheel after drinking, putting themselves and others at risk. 

Drinking and driving is a nationwide issue but the prevalence of drunk driving and the regulations surrounding it vary from state to state. To determine the states with the highest rates of drunk driving problems per capita, we analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and FBI crime data.

We found:

  • Montana ranked worst for drunk driving problems, with more fatalities per 100,000 people than any other state. 
  • The four most dangerous states are located in the same geographic region: Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. 
  • New York had the fewest drunk driving issues, followed by Utah and the District of Columbia. 
  • The three states with the largest drunk driving issues also ranked in the top ten for alcohol consumption per capita. 

Deadliest states for drunk driving

Our study focused on state-by-state data available on drunk driving fatalities, DUI arrests, and the prevalence of adults who reported driving after drinking too much.

These states had the most prominent drunk driving issues:

  1. Montana
  2. South Dakota
  3. North Dakota
  4. Wyoming
  5. South Carolina

We found that Montana ranked worst for drunk driving issues and had the highest number of deaths per 100,000 people. New York was the state least prone to drunk driving, with Utah and the District of Columbia close behind.

1. Montana

According to the latest data from the NHTSA, Montana suffers from the nation's highest level of drunk driving deaths per 100,000 people. For years, the state has been criticized for its lenient drunk driving laws and the statistics seem to reflect the consequences. Montana suffered 79 fatalities from drunk driving in 2018. While that total may seem small, the state’s population is only around 1 million.

2. South Dakota

Like Montana, South Dakota is also known for its lax drunk driving laws — despite having more DUI arrests per 100,000 people than any other state. Last year, 8,164 people were arrested for driving under the influence. DUI arrest data may contain multiple types of offenses, but these numbers show South Dakota has a lot of room to increase safety on the road. 

3. North Dakota

South Dakota’s northern neighbor also nears the top of the list of worst states for alcohol-impaired driving. North Dakota had the highest percentage of adults who reported that they drank too much before driving. The state has slightly better drunk driving laws but still came in right behind South Dakota in the number of DUI arrests.

 4. Wyoming

Wyoming had a high number of fatalities and arrests, nearing the totals of Montana and the Dakotas. Last year 3,253 people were arrested for DUIs out of a state population of only 577,737. Wyoming did rank lower on the prevalence factor but the data was self-reported.

5. South Carolina

Leaving the northern pocket of midwestern and western states, South Carolina had the fifth-most frequent drunk driving issues. South Carolina followed Montana and Wyoming in fatalities per 100,000 people with a death rate of 5.72. Despite its lower numbers of arrests and drunk driving prevalence, the deadly rate of drunk driving fatalities earns South Carolina a spot high on the list.

States with the fewest drunk driving fatalities

Nationally, drunk driving fatalities are declining. While there’s no single factor, the CDC advocates that these strategies reduce drunk driving: effective drunk driving laws, ignition locks, public media campaigns, and educational programs. 

We found these states had the fewest accidents and lowest amount of damages caused by drunk driving: New York, Utah, District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. MADD gave New York a ⅘ star rating for its drunk driving laws and noted that after passing a stricter child endangerment law in 2013, deaths decreased by 11%. 

Which states consume the most alcohol?

Although increased alcohol consumption doesn’t indicate a higher prevalence of drunk driving, it may reveal which states make more responsible choices behind the wheel. We analyzed state data for alcohol consumption per capita to look at which states drink the most and compared it to our findings on drunk driving.

Here’s what we found:

  • The three states with the most prevalent drunk driving issues (Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota) also appeared in the top 10 for alcohol consumption.
  • New Hampshire ranked highest for alcohol consumption and 20th for drunk driving. 
  • The District of Columbia ranked second highest for alcohol consumption but was the third safest for drunk driving issues. 
  • Utah had the lowest alcohol consumption per capita and also made the list of states with the fewest drunk driving problems.

How to prevent and reduce drunk driving

These statistics help us understand how prevalent drunk driving is, but there are many other alcohol-related incidents and crashes that don’t get reported. Reducing drunk driving comes down to making responsible choices. If you choose to drink, make a plan to find a safe ride home. 

What you can do:

  • Before you drink, designate someone as the non-drinking driver. 
  • If you’ve been drinking, find a sober ride home like a cab or ride-share.
  • Never let someone else who has been drinking drive a vehicle.
  • Don’t get in the car with a driver who has been drinking. 

What policymakers and law enforcement can do:

  • Enforce “zero tolerance” laws for people under the age of 21. 
  • Set up sobriety checkpoints to allow officers to stop and check for impaired drivers. 
  • Install and mandate that first-time and repeat drunk driving offenders use ignition interlocks to check their BAC before driving. 
  • Enact strict license revocation or suspension laws. 
  • Increase drunk driving education and treatment for those at risk of alcohol abuse. 

Drinking and driving has costly consequences. If convicted of a DUI, you’ll likely have to pay higher insurance rates, fines, legal fees, and damages. More importantly, drunk driving could cost you your life or someone else’s.

Methodology

The Zebra compiled three data points on 50 US states and the District of Columbia. 

The data points were weighted as follows: 

  • Fatalities per 100,000 people – 50
  • DUI arrests per 100,000 people – 25
  • Prevalence of adults who reported drinking and driving – 25

We pulled our data from the NHTSA (data from 2018), FBI (data from 2017), and CDC (data from 2014). The population of each state was used to determine the number of fatalities and arrests per 100,000 people. These factors were ranked, weighted, and scored to calculate the final rankings. 

Additional source: MADD

The ZebraResource Center