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This week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that U.S. traffic deaths increased 7.2% in 2015 compared to the previous year. Last year, 35,092 people lost their lives on America’s roadways. NHTSA noted the year-over-year increase is the largest in nearly 50 years.

Drunk Driving Heading in the Wrong Direction

Alcohol-impaired crashes (where a driver had a BAC of 0.08 or higher) played a significant role in the overall increase in traffic fatalities, jumping sharply in 2015 to 10,265. While drunk-driving deaths were down for certain vehicle types—including motorcycles and semi-trucks—fatal crashes involving passenger cars increased 5%.

The 2015 statistics are likely to add fuel to concerns that progress on reducing drunk driving has slowed. The number of alcohol-impaired traffic deaths has stubbornly hovered near 10,000 since 2010. Dips below 10,000 deaths in 2011 and 2014 suggested that things were moving in the right direction, but a consistent downward trend hasn’t materialized.

Stats Differ Sharply Between States

However, it’s important to note the increase in deaths wasn’t uniform across the country. Eighteen states actually had fewer alcohol-impaired fatalities in 2015 compared to 2014, with Texas leading the way with 123 fewer deaths. States that experienced the biggest increases in deaths include Arizona (+72), Florida (+103), Georgia (+87), Michigan (+55), and Oregon (+56).

The following states had the highest and lowest percentages of traffic deaths tied to alcohol last year:

States with highest percentages of alcohol-impaired deaths in 2015
Drunk Driving Deaths % of Total Traffic Fatalities
Rhode Island 19 43%
Connecticut 103 39%
North Dakota 50 38%
Texas 1323 38%
Wyoming 56 38%


States with lowest percentages of alcohol-impaired deaths in 2015
Drunk Driving Deaths % of Total Traffic Fatalities
Utah 43 16%
New Jersey 111 20%
Indiana 178 22%
Iowa 78 24%
Kansas 84 24%

See the results for all states and read the full 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview here.

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Alison Betts

Alison Betts

Alison Betts has nearly two decades of experience as a communications professional and researcher in corporate, nonprofit, and high education settings. Betts joined SCRAM Systems in 2013 and is the Director of Marketing & Public Relations. Prior to coming to SCRAM Systems, she held research and teaching positions at universities in Arizona and Colorado. Betts has also served as a public relations professional and grant writer in the nonprofit sector, where she saw first-hand the devastating impact of alcohol and substance abuse on families and communities. Betts holds an MA in English from the University of Colorado and a Master’s in Applied Communications from the University of Denver.


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