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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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4 Million in U.S. Admit Drunk Driving

Drunk Drivers on Road 112 Million Times a Year, CDC Says
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Oct. 4, 2011 -- Four million Americans admit driving when they've had too much to drink, a CDC survey finds.

Just counting those who admit drunken driving -- certainly an underestimate of the true number -- alcohol-impaired drivers were on the road an estimated 112 million times last year.

That's down 30% from 2006, but not down far enough for CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH.

"Each of those drunk driving episodes could have resulted in the injury or death of a fellow driver or of a kid biking to school. This is unacceptable," Frieden said at a news conference. "One out of three fatal motor vehicle crashes is related to drunk driving: nearly 11,000 such deaths each year."

Who's driving drunk? The CDC survey found that:

  • 81% of drunk drivers are men.
  • 85% of drunk drivers are binge drinkers.
  • 1 in 3 drunk drivers are young men aged 21 to 34.
  • People who don't always wear seatbelts are four times more likely to drive drunk.
  • People from the Midwest report more drunk driving than people from the South, West, or Northeast.

Among states, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Massachusetts rank first, second, and third, respectively, in most drunk driving. New York, New Mexico, and New Jersey rank first, second, and third, respectively, in least drunk driving. (Note: figures are not available for Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.)

The decline in drunk driving is a bit confusing, Frieden says, as Americans are drinking as much as ever. He suggests that the recession may be keeping drinkers at home and off the road. And he urges states to take stronger actions against drunk driving.

"There are other countries around the world that have taken drunk driving more seriously, and their rates of fatal crashes are half or two-thirds lower than ours," Frieden says. "They drink just as much and drive just as fast as we do. But this is a huge threat to everyone who uses the road, with tragic consequences."

In particular, the CDC urges states to take two actions:

  • Increase sobriety checkpoints, at which police stop cars and determine whether drivers have been drinking.
  • Pass laws requiring anyone convicted of drunk driving to install ignition interlock programs that require drivers to pass a breath test before the car will start.

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