The Pandemic and Drunk Driving

Updated: Jul 8


Behind the wheel of a car driving at night.
Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

While driving seemed to take a seat in the chaotic year that was 2020, many were still on the roads and in the background data was been collected and collated. That data has now been published, and the data relating to drunk driving incidents is particularly interesting.


In an article for Bankrate, Lena Borrelli takes a deep dive into the statistics on drunk driving in the United States in 2020. In a year where less people were on the roads, what impact has this chaotic year had on the statistics?


Drunk driving remains a serious problem in the U.S., with approximately one person dying every 52 minutes as a result of a collision involving alcohol. That's 28 people each and every day and over 10,000 people a year.


In the United States, a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher renders a driver 'legally impaired' - driving with this level of alcohol in your system is both illegal and highly dangerous. The drunker you are, the less able you are the effectively and safely operate your vehicle. Alcohol impairs judgment and slows reaction time, a deadly combination.


While 28 fatalities a day as a result of drunk driving is shocking, the number of deaths from drunk driving has been on a downward decline in the United States. NHTSA data tells us that since 1985, drunk driving deaths have decreased by 44%.


Part of this, as Borrelli points out, is our growing understanding of how alcohol affects us as drivers, along with an expansion of alternative options for getting home when under the influence:


"As awareness continues to improve about the effects of alcohol, trends in drunk driving have steadily decreased. The rise of technological advances, such as popular ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft, have made hitching a sober ride all the more accessible and often more affordable, too."

Unfortunately, the year 2020 did not reflect this continued decline. Last year, the amount of drunk driving fatalities actually increased, despite the fact that less people were driving:


"By September 2020, drunk driving fatalities increased almost five percent from the same period in 2019, although total miles traveled decreased about 14.5 percent. The fatality rate also increased from 1.10 to 1.35 in just a year."

Borrelli implies that part of this increase might stem from the stress that many have been under during the pandemic. While less people have been on the roads, for many, being stuck at home and having a limited amount of social contact has negatively contributed to their mental health. This, combined with the financial stress that many people have felt during the pandemic, could help explain the increase in drunk driving fatalities.


Another possibility is that decreased traffic on roads has given insensitive to some drivers to behave more recklessly, taking advantage of quieter streets to increase their speed and engage in other dangerous behaviours.


While repercussions from COVID continue for the foreseeable future, these statistics are evidence that we must prioritize road safety during this difficult time. Drunk driving is something impacts more than just the person behind the wheel; many of the fatalities are incurred by other drivers, including children, who are represented in drunk driving statistics each year.


Borrelli has some suggestions for how you can prevent drunk driving. She stresses the following:


"No matter what, make a plan (or a few) before you head out for your adventure. Tru to find a place to stay in advance of your festivities so you're able to make decisions with a clear mind."

In a time where the statistics are so readily available and the options we have are do diverse, there is no excuse for getting behind the wheel when drunk. As for 2021, we will have to wait and see whether drunk driving again increases or whether they regain the decline that has characterized other years. Hopefully 2021 will reflect a year of decreased drunk driving fatalities.


For more on the recently released drunk driving statistics, and for advice on how to avoid drunk driving, check out the original article in Bankrate by Lena Borrelli.