Which States Are The Most Dangerous For Holiday Drunk Driving?

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Car crashed with bike at night

Are you worried about drunk drivers on the road during the holidays? Your state may not be quite as dangerous as you think.

Based on our unique analysis of Google search trends vs actual DUI fatalities on a state-by-state basis, many U.S. residents are more worried than they maybe need to be given the DUI fatality rates in their area — with a few exceptions. Texans: take note.

While residents of Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York are among the most concerned about drunk driving deaths, these states are some of the safest when it comes to actual deaths at the hands of alcohol-impaired drivers.

In stark comparison, Texans are worried — and they should be. They rank as the 5th most dangerous state when it comes to both the percentage of deaths from drunk drivers and our overall score of the most dangerous states for drunk driving. They were also the 6th most likely state to search for information about drunk driving deaths during the 2017 holiday season.

One person in the U.S. dies every 50 minutes as a result of drunk driving,1 and fatality rates increase 12% during the holidays.

If you don’t know where your state falls in the risk of dying from a DUI auto accident, see our breakdowns of actual state DUI fatalities and how they compare to Google search trends about drunk driving, especially during the holidays.

Finally, find out which states’ citizens are most likely to get behind the wheel drunk (or who’s most likely to get caught!) and what you can do to protect yourself.

States For Drinking & Driving Infographic

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Drunk Driving Fatalities Statistics By State

Alcohol-impaired driving crashes account for approximately one-third of all crash fatalities in the United States. In 2016 alone, nearly 10,500 people died from drunk driving in the U.S.2

Safest (And Most Dangerous) States For Drunk Driving Fatalities

Below is a breakdown of the percentage of traffic fatalities that were alcohol-related when the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) was .08% or more, the number of Drinking Under the Influence (DUI) fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and the total number of overall DUI Deaths. We then gave them a ranking of safety where the higher the “overall score” number, the safer the state for DUI-related fatalities.

Utah was found to be the safest state with the fewest DUI fatalities, with an overall score of 49 (19% of total traffic deaths from DUIs). In contrast, Montana scores the most dangerous, with 45% of total traffic deaths in the state coming at the hands of drunk driving.

Note: Total fatalities per state was not included in the Overall Score because it would disproportionately skew the data higher for states with large populations or lower it for states with low populations.

 % of Fatalities from DUIDUI Fatalities per 100KOVERALL SCORETotal Fatalities (not part of Overall Score)
New Jersey231.546137
New York281.439.5283
North Carolina243.533354
West Virginia253.73068
District of Columbia381.527.510
Rhode Island371.82619
New Hampshire3032640
New Mexico295.714.5118
South Carolina336.76.5331
South Dakota395.35.546
North Dakota456.72.550

Methodology For Drunk Driving Fatality Rankings

The Overall Score was calculated based on a weighted average. Each state’s percentage of alcohol-related driving fatalities was weighted at 50% and its overall ranking in fatalities per capita composed the other 50%.

The data includes info for all 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia and comes from the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2016 Alcohol-Impaired Driving Report 2, NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the U.S. Census Bureau.3

Note: the national average is 3.3 fatalities per 100 thousand people.

Which States Are the Most Concerned About Holiday Drunk Driving Deaths?

We also wondered which U.S. states are the most worried about drunk driving deaths during the holidays. Digging into this, we were surprised to find that the states who were most worried, in most cases, are the ones that need not be as concerned, based on the fatality rate in their location.

Texans are worried and they should be. They rank as the fifth most dangerous state when it comes to both percentage of deaths from DUIs and the overall score. They are also the sixth most likely state to search for information about drunk driving deaths during the 2017 holiday season.

However, people in Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York may be more worried about drunk driving deaths than they should be. All three states rank in the top 10 for states that seek the most online information about drunk driving deaths, yet, they are among the safest when it comes to actual deaths at the hands of driving under the influence.

StateWorry Level
(1=most worried; 10=least worried;
not included=very low search volume)
North Carolina1
New York7

Methodology For Drunk Driving Death Worries By State

This data was composed by identifying the most popular fatality-related drunk driving search term: “drunk driving deaths.” Then we submitted that term to Google Trends for the 45 day holiday period in 2017 to find out which states had the most Google searches for that term during that timeframe.

Top States For Drinking & Driving

You might want to think twice before having one more glass of wine at your holiday dinner and then heading home. More than 845,000 people were arrested for DUI offenses in 20162. In looking at states that are the most prone to drinking and driving, these are the top 10 states with the most DUI arrests per capita.4, 5

Top States For Drinking & Driving

 DUI Arrests Per 1 Million PeopleDUI Arrests As A % Of Population
#1 South Dakota8,403.68.84%
#2 North Dakota7,587.55.76%
#3 Wyoming5,263.87.53%
#4 Maine4,402.62.44%
#5 Wisconsin4,331.42.43%
#6 Colorado4,256.08.43%
#7 Montana4,253.16.43%
#8 Alaska4,170.41.42%
#9 Hawaii4,166.44.42%
#10 Kentucky3,824.00.38%

Again, the states who were searching most for info about “DUI arrests” (per Google Trends during the same 45-day holiday timeframe) were not among the most likely to actually incur one. Incidentally, the most U.S. searches each year for the term “DUI arrests,” irregardless of state, happens on New Year’s Eve (by several multiples).

To see how your state stacks up to the national average, the national average is 3,025 DUI’s per one million people.

Drunk Driving: Facts You Have To See To Believe

Sadly, here are some other not-so-fun facts and figure as it relates to drinking and driving.

  • Driver Age: The highest percentage of drivers with BACs of .08+ was for 25- to 34-year-old drivers (27%), followed by 21- to 24-year-old drivers (26%). The 10-year trend of alcohol-impaired drivers involved increased for older drivers when compared to younger drivers.
  • Under 21: Drunk driving fatalities declined by 31%, and among those under 21 the number of deaths has decreased 65% in the last several decades.3
  • Driver Gender:  In 2016 there were 4 male alcohol-impaired drivers involved for every female alcohol-impaired driver involved (7,850 versus 1,883).
  • Night vs Day: 70% occurred in the dark compared to 26% in daylight (with 4% during dusk and dawn)
  • Most Dangerous Months: More occurred in July (9.5%), May (9.1%), and October (9.1%)
  • Road Type: 86% occurred on non-interstate roads compared to 14% on interstate roads
  • Rural vs Urban: 50% occurred in both urban and rural areas
  • Total Fatalities: The total number of alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities were highest in Texas (1,438), California (1,059) and Florida (841), and lowest in the District of Columbia (10), Rhode Island (19) and Vermont (27).
  • 846,665 people were arrested for drunk driving in 20164 
  • Three times as many males were arrested for drunk driving as females in 2015 (508,633 vs 167,327).1
  • 4.2 million adults reported at least one alcohol-impaired driving episode in the past month in a 2012 CDC survey6
  • 50% to 75% of convicted drunk drivers continue to drive on a suspended license1
  • About a quarter of car crashes with teens involve an underage drinking driver1

Stats are from the NHTSA 2016 report2 unless otherwise noted.

Drinking And Driving During The Holidays Tips

Nationally, 40% of traffic-related deaths during Christmas and New Year’s involve drunk drivers — a 12% increase over the annual average.7

The good news is that drunk driving fatalities have been trending down over the last 20 years, thanks to awareness and stricter laws. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have made it illegal to drive with a BAC of 0.08 g/dL or higher.

Still, the roads can be dangerous, particularly during holiday evenings and nights. Check out the brief video below for some driving tips to stay safe on New Year’s Eve and other risky times.

Stay safe this holiday season and while it’s okay to have fun drinking and being merry, it’s never okay to drink and drive. If you do plan to have one too many eggnogs, make sure you have a designated driver (or take an Uber or Lyft home). The last thing you want is to spend your holidays behind bars.

Sources: [1] MADD; [2]  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; [3]  Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility; [4] FBI; [5] Car Insurance Comparison; [6] Centers for Disease Control; [7] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

What tips do you have to reduce drunk driving deaths in your state?

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While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations, Sally began a long career researching and writing about hard-to-understand topics, such as insurance and finance. Her additional experience in marketing, fundraising, public relations and financial planning at various foundations and nonprofit organizations over the years has given her the practical tools to inform consumers about making the smartest business and personal financial decisions. Speaking of smart living — growing up in the (at-the-time) per-capita murder capital of the U.S. (Richmond, VA) taught her a thing or two about the need for personal and home safety. Sally stays on top of all the latest gadgets and services to protect her and her teenage daughters from potential predators and thieves. And she brings this knowledge to every article she writes.

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