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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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:
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:
What policymakers and law enforcement can do:
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.
The Zebra compiled three data points on 50 US states and the District of Columbia.
The data points were weighted as follows:
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