Why Some States Have More Drunk-Driving Deaths

Drunk driving is a problem throughout America. However, some states have more drunk drivers than others; in addition, some states have higher rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities than others. A broad range of factors helps explain why some states have more than their share of drunk-driving deaths. In addition to total population size, the factors that have an impact on statistics for drunk driving and alcohol-related fatalities include the age, gender and racial/ethnic breakdowns for each state. They also include the percentage of people who drive while intoxicated.

Population Size

The size of a state’s population has a major impact on the sheer number of residents who die in alcohol-related crashes. Simply put, states with larger populations typically experience more deaths than states with smaller populations. However, this general trend doesn’t always hold true. For example, while California has almost 12 million more inhabitants than Texas, more people die in drunk-driving incidents in Texas than in California (1,323 deaths in Texas and 914 in California in 2015).

Percentage of People Who Drive Drunk

Roughly 1.9% of all U.S. adults drive while intoxicated every month. However, statistics for drunk driving vary considerably from state to state. Figures compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that two states — Utah and West Virginia — tie for the lowest rate of intoxicated driving (0.7% of all drivers). Montana and Nebraska are tied for the highest rate of intoxicated driving at 3.4% of all drivers.

Age, Gender and Racial/Ethnic Background

In terms of age, two groups are especially likely to die in an alcohol-related crash: young adults and middle-aged adults. Men also die in such crashes substantially more often than women. In addition, an individual’s racial/ethnic background has a significant impact. Drinking plays a role in fully two-thirds of all fatal motor vehicle accidents among American Indians and Alaska Natives. African Americans and European Americans have roughly equal rates for such deaths (39% and 38%). Rates vary widely among people of Hispanic/Latino descent, with a high of 50% among Mexican Americans and a low of 24% among Cuban Americans. All of these figures mean one thing: States with relatively large percentages of the groups that die most often in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents tend to have more total deaths than states with relatively small percentages of these groups.

Other Factors

Differing drunk driving laws once played an important role in determining the state-by-state breakdown of alcohol-related driving fatalities. However, the need to follow federal standards has largely wiped out these differences. State-specific cultures can also have a big impact. For example, Utah (a state heavily populated by alcohol-abstaining members of the Mormon Church) has extremely low rates for both drunk driving and intoxication-related motor vehicle deaths. Nonetheless, these figures show that drunk driving is a problem across the country, and there is a widespread need for alcohol abuse treatment.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Drunk Driving State Data and Maps https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/states-data-tables.html National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Epidemiology and Consequences of Drinking and Driving                                                                                    https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-1/63-78.htm National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: State Traffic Safety Information for Year 2015 https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/stsi.htm

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