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Last summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its initial findings on U.S. traffic deaths during 2015, announcing that 10,265 people were killed in drunk driving crashes that year. Now, NHTSA’s latest fact sheet provides a more complete picture of alcohol-impaired traffic fatalities in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available).

Who’s most at risk?

NHTSA’s data looked at fatal crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher. Of the 10,265 people killed in alcohol-related crashes, more than three-quarters were either the impaired driver (63%) or a passenger in the impaired driver’s vehicle (15%). Pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-occupants accounted for 933 deaths (9%). And of the 181 children killed in drunk driving crashes, just over half were traveling with an impaired driver.

Age and gender of impaired drivers

Over 70% of alcohol-impaired drivers involved in traffic fatalities were under the age of 35, and 16% were 16- to 20-years old. However, NHTSA noted that these percentages have decreased over the past decade, while fatal crashes with impaired drivers over the age of 55 have ticked up slightly.

Furthermore, the 2015 data shows that “there were 4 male alcohol-impaired drivers involved for every female alcohol-impaired driver involved (7,595 versus 1,761).”

Nights and weekends still most dangerous 

According to NHSTA, the “rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2015 was 3.5 times higher at night than during the day (32% versus 9%).” In addition, nearly twice as many alcohol-related traffic fatalities occur during weekends (6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Monday) compared to weekdays.

Driving record an indicator of issues

Legally intoxicated drivers involved in a fatal crash often have a record of traffic incidents. The data shows, “Drivers with BACs of .08 g/dL or higher involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for driving while impaired (DWI) than were drivers with no alcohol (9% and 2%, respectively).” In addition, of this group 18% had a previous crash, 24% had a prior speeding conviction, and 26% had previously had their license revoked or suspended. The data looked back 5 years.

BAC readings

The fact sheet notes that the most frequent BAC readings for drivers involved in a fatal crash range between .14 and .18, and nearly 6,900 alcohol traffic fatalities involved a driver with a BAC of .15 or higher. In addition, NHTSA also notes that there were 1,833 drivers with a BAC between .01 and .07 who were involved in a fatal crash.

Read the entire 2015 Traffic Safety Facts on alcohol-impaired driving.

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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.