Every day, almost 29 people in the United States die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes—that’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016. Drunk-driving fatalities have fallen by a third in the last three decades; however, drunk-driving crashes claim more than 10,000 lives per year. In 2010, the most recent year for which cost data is available, these deaths and damages contributed to a cost of $44B per year.
Alcohol is a substance that reduces the function of the brain, impairing thinking, reasoning and muscle coordination. All these abilities are essential to operating a vehicle safely.
As alcohol levels rise in a person’s system, the negative effects on the central nervous system increase, too. Alcohol is absorbed directly through the walls of the stomach and small intestine. Then it passes into the bloodstream where it accumulates until it is metabolized by the liver. Alcohol level is measured by the weight of the alcohol in a certain volume of blood. This is called Blood Alcohol Concentration, or BAC. At a BAC of .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood (g/dL), crash risk increases exponentially. Because of this risk, it’s illegal in all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher. However, even a small amount of alcohol can affect driving ability. In 2016, there were 2,017 people killed in alcohol-related crashes where drivers had lower alcohol levels (BACs of .01 to .07 g/dL).
BAC is measured with a breathalyzer, a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a driver’s breath, or by a blood test.