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No Indication Impaired Driving Fatality Rates Related to Per Capita Alcohol Consumption

While public health advocates argue that higher average consumption rates lead to more alcohol-related problems, impaired driving fatalities have never been strongly linked to absolute alcohol consumption rates, at least not on a state-by-state basis. Safewise analyzed 2016 impaired driving fatalities per 100,000 population in each state from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ranking the states from highest to lowest, NHTSA data shows a remarkable range in the rate per 100,000 population. Indeed, Montana’s 9.15 per 100,000 is 5.5X higher than New York’s 1.65.  Interestingly, Utah has the 2d-lowest rate at 1.94, 17.5% higher than New York, where alcohol is significantly easier to access and taxed at a much lower rate. There are many other cultural, geographic and other differences between New York and Utah as well, yet they are 2 of only 3 states where the impaired fatality rate is less than 2 per 100,000.  New Jersey is the 3d.

If average alcohol consumption were specifically related to impaired fatality rates, you’d expect states with the lowest impaired fatality rates to also be among those with the lowest per capita consumption of absolute alcohol and vice versa, with the heaviest drinking states being among those with the highest impaired fatality rates.  But that’s not the case. It is true that Utah has the lowest per capita alcohol consumption among US states and that New York’s is lower than the national average. But the next 3 states with the lowest impaired driving rates each have higher than average per capita alcohol consumption (in 2016).

Similarly, Montanans drink significantly more alcohol per capita than the national average: 3.14 gallons vs 2.46 gallons.  So do North Dakotans, where the impaired fatality rate is the 3d highest in the US. But 3 other states in the top 5 of impaired fatalities each have consumption rates that are the same or less than the national average: South Carolina, New Mexico and Alabama.   (The rural nature of these states and lack of public transportation would appear to be a much more important factor determining the impaired fatality rate.) Expanding the analysis to the top 10 highest and lowest impaired fatality rates shows the same, with 5 states in each group having higher than average consumption rates and 5 having lower than average consumption rates.

Safewise made these comments about the states with the highest impaired driving fatality rates:

  • MADD rates Montana as “the state with the most work to do when it comes to cracking down on drunk driving.”
  • “Three of the five worst states for impaired driving deaths don‘t require ignition locks for drivers convicted of DUI.”
  • Several studies suggest a correlation between ride-sharing services and decreases in both DUI and impaired-driving crashes.

Publishing Info

  • Year: 2018
  • Volume: 35
  • Issue #: 8
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