Which States Have the Highest and Lowest Fatal Car Accidents Involving Alcohol?

Every year, thousands of Americans die in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents. A federal agency called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) keeps annual records of drunk-driving statistics by state, including a state-by-state breakdown of drunk-driving fatalities. Using these statistics, we can see which states have the highest and lowest rates of these fatalities.

Number vs. Rate

There are two basic ways of tracking fatality-related drunk-driving statistics by state: number and rate. Numbers tell us how many people overall die in any given state in any given year. However, the more important figure is the rate or percentage of deaths compared to a state’s total population. This makes sense, since a state with a relatively small number of residents — Rhode Island, for example — stands very little chance (if any) of ever having as many drunk drivers on the road as a heavily populated state such as California or Texas. The NHTSA keeps track of both the number and rate for each state. However, the rate more accurately records the state-by-state picture than the sheer number.

States With the Highest Rates of Death

The statistics for Rhode Island clearly illustrate the need to prioritize drunk-driving fatality rates over drunk-driving fatality numbers. In 2015 (the last year with available statistics), the state recorded just 19 alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities. Despite this fact, Rhode Island has the nation’s highest percentage of drunk-driving deaths in relation to the total number of all traffic accident deaths. A whopping 43% of all fatal driving accidents in the state are alcohol-related. The next four states with the highest percentages of such fatalities are:

  • Connecticut (39% of all traffic deaths)
  • North Dakota (38%)
  • Texas (also 38%, with a total fatality number of 1,323)
  • Wyoming (also 38%)

The states with the lowest percentages of drunk-driving fatalities are:

  • Utah (just 16% of all traffic deaths)
  • New Jersey (20%)
  • Indiana (22%)
  • Iowa (24%)
  • Kansas (also 24%)

In 2015, a total of 10,265 Americans died in alcohol-related traffic accidents. This represents a significant increase over the number of such deaths reported the previous year. Cars were involved in fatal drunk-driving accidents fully 5% more often in 2015 than in 2014. These numbers highlight the need for safer roads as well as the need for effective alcohol abuse treatment. Resources National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: State Traffic Safety Information for Year 2015 https://cdan.nhtsa.gov/stsi.htm National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes Overview https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812318

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