Picture this: You are sitting at the bar on a Friday night after a long week of work. You decide to treat yourself to a couple of beers before you head home. As you get into your car to drive home, you hesitate briefly, but decide to anyway because home is only a few miles away. The next thing you know, you’re lying on a stretcher with the front of your car crumpled up like an old piece of paper in your peripheral vision. Sadly, this story is more common than you might think.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Where Does Your State Rank in Drunk Driving?
Every day, around 37 people in the United States are killed in drunk driving crashes—about one person every 39 minutes. In 2021 alone, 13,384 people died in alcohol-impaired driving incidents. However, different regions of the country see varying rates of DUI arrests and traffic deaths as a result of drunk driving.
Using FBI crime statistics, U.S. Census Bureau data, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) DUI fatality statistics, each state can be ranked by the severity of its respective drunk driving rates.
Upper Midwest Plagued by High DUI Rates; Northeast Ranked Safest
The northwestern and north central U.S. is consistently ranked as the most dangerous region for drunk driving-related traffic fatalities and DUI arrests. Although exact rankings vary based on statistics used, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho are consistently ranked in the top 10 states with the most drunk drivers.
In Montana, for example, 45% of traffic deaths in 2020 were caused by drunk drivers. Additionally, for every 100,000 state residents, 6.92 people were killed in a crash involving a drunk driver and 8.39 drunk drivers were involved in a fatal crash. All three of these Montana statistics were the highest in the United States.
Other states with consistently poor rankings include Texas, Oregon, New Mexico, Missouri, South Carolina, and Maine. Texas had the highest rate of fatal crashes involving drunk drivers under age 21, at 0.92 per 100,000 licensed drivers.
The majority of northeastern states ranked among the safest in terms of drunk driving. Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey place in the top 10 safest states, primarily because of low DUI rates and low traffic fatalities resulting from a driver over the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08.
Both Connecticut and Maine were exceptions to this trend in 2020. Maine ranked as the eighth worst state for drunk driving, primarily due to high DUI rates and a high percentage of traffic deaths caused by drunk driving, while Connecticut ranked as 12th worst.
Although being surrounded by states ranked poorly, Utah ranked as the second safest state for drunk driving in 2020, behind only New Jersey. In 2020, only about one in five traffic deaths in Utah were caused by someone driving over the legal limit BAC limit, the second lowest rate in the nation.
Even if your state is considered one of the safest in terms of drunk driving, you should always play it safe when it comes to driving under the influence. The next time you think about hopping in your car—despite feeling “okay to drive”—think again. Always have a sober ride lined up if you plan to drink, and help keep the roads safe for everyone.