Over the last few decades, government officials, law enforcement officers, and drunk driving accident victims have warned the public repeatedly about the dangers of drunk driving.
Repeat offenders account for about one-third of drunk driving arrests nationwide. These offenders, and all other drunk drivers whom law enforcement has not yet caught, put everyone else on the road – motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike—at risk for severe, catastrophic, and fatal injuries. In fact, approximately 23 percent of traffic accident fatalities involve alcohol use.
This blog takes a hard look at the prevalence of drunk driving accidents, how alcohol impairs driving abilities, and the long term financial impact a drunk driving accident can have on victims and their families.
Drunk Driving Accidents by the Numbers
Driving constitutes such a routine part of daily life for most people that we do not always think about the risks it entails. The following facts and figures from the most recent available data offer a deeper understanding of the prevalence of drunk driving across the nation.
This information might help you avoid a drunk driving accident, and at the very least should encourage you to think twice before getting behind the wheel after drinking, or riding with another who has been drinking.
National Drunk Driving Statistics
- The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 10,511 people died in drunk driving accidents in 2018, a few hundred less than in 2017 and in 2016.
- Almost 30 people die each day—one person every 50 minutes—in the United States because of drunk drivers.
- Death and damages from drunk driving cost more than $40 billion each year.
- Traffic crashes are four times more likely to involve alcohol at night than during the day.
- Almost twice the amount of drunk-driving related crashes occur on weekends than on weekdays.
- Drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 are involved in the most alcohol-related fatal crashes.
- Men are more likely to drive drunk than women in fatal crashes. In 2018, 21 percent of drivers in fatal drunk driving crashes were men, while only 14 percent were women, according to the NHTSA.
How Does Alcohol Impair Your Body?
You probably know that consuming alcohol impairs driving abilities, and that the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers is 0.08 grams (0.04 grams for drivers with commercial driver’s licenses). Yet, you likely have not thought about how, exactly, alcohol impairs your body, specifically in terms of how it impacts driving. So let’s take a look.
Alcohol begins to impair your body from the very first sip, long before you reach the legal limit of 0.08 grams. Each person metabolizes alcohol differently based on their weight, but the NHTSA offers these guidelines for the effects of various levels of blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
BAC Level 0 .02
After only having one drink or less, a person loses some judgment and relaxation sets in. Some also experience slight body warmth and an altered mood. Those who drive after one drink usually do not break the law, but they still experience impairment. At 0.02 BAC level, drivers start to lose some of their visual function and lose their ability to engage in multiple cognitive and motor tasks at once (essential for driving safely).
BAC Level 0.05
A person with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 exhibits exaggerated behavior and experiences some loss of small muscle control, such as eye movement. Judgment becomes impaired to the extent that the person often lets go of inhibitions. Behind the wheel, that person will have reduced coordination, difficulty with the manual dexterity needed to steer, and difficulty tracking other moving objects. Additionally, a 0.05 BAC level also leads to struggles with responding to road hazards and other emergencies when driving.
BAC Level 0.08
A person who has reached the legal BAC limit has poor muscle coordination that impacts balance, speech, eyesight, hearing, and reflexes. The person loses the ability to evaluate risks, and displays impaired judgment, impulse control, and logical reasoning. A driver who has reached the legal BAC limit will have difficulty concentrating, struggle with short-term memory, and have difficulty processing information. Drunk drivers at the 0.08 BAC level also struggle to maintain a safe speed while driving.
BAC Level 0.10
As a person drinks beyond the legal limit, no question exists about their loss of abilities. Reaction time slows dramatically and the person displays noticeably slurred speech, poor coordination, and cognitive malfunction. At this level, drunk drivers have a harder time staying in their lane and braking when necessary.
BAC Level 0.15
Excessive alcohol consumption leads to severe loss in muscle control, potential vomiting, and complete loss of balance. Drivers who get behind the wheel in this condition are completely impaired. Not only is it difficult for them to control the vehicle and concentrate on driving, but they can’t accurately process the information they see or hear.
Long-Term Financial Costs of Drunk Driving Accidents
Victims of drunk driving accidents often endure severe physical and emotional pain. Over time, victims can hope for that pain to subside, at least to a degree.
Unfortunately, even after physical and emotional recovery, drunk driving victims frequently face lasting financial struggles stemming from their injuries and losses. Some of the most costly aspects of the harms caused by a drunk driving accident include:
Medical expenses related to a drunk driving accident begin with an ambulance ride to the nearest emergency room, and often last for years thereafter. None of those costs comes cheap. Hospitalizations, surgeries, follow-up visits, medication, and medical equipment, to name just some of the healthcare expenses drunk driving victims face, can run into the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars.
Victims who suffer the most severe injuries, such as spinal cord damage, may face millions of dollars in direct medical costs over their lifetimes. Although insurance may cover some of these expenses, co-payments, deductibles, and non-covered expenses alone can easily exceed an injured victim’s financial means.
Drunk driving accident victims often find that indirect, medical-related expenses also pile up. A rehabilitation regimen to heal and reach maximum medical improvement, for instance, can last months or more, and cost an exorbitant amount. Different specialists provide different costly rehabilitation services. Physical therapists help accident victims restore physical function. Drunk driving accident victims who suffer permanent disabilities learn new ways to perform tasks and get through their daily routine from occupational therapists.
If a brain injury is involved, some accident victims experience problems with speech and communication, so they visit a speech therapist. A severe accident can also be a traumatic event leading to anxiety, depression, and other symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In these cases, drunk driving accident victims visit a psychologist or other mental health specialist to learn how to cope with their emotional trauma.
Some drunk driving accident victims suffer injuries that require them to receive ongoing around-the-clock care. Examples of injuries that can require full-time care include comas, permanent vegetative state (PVS), spinal cord injuries, and severe brain injuries. This means a victim must spend years or the rest of their lives in a long-term nursing care facility or have private in-home healthcare. Both options are costly. Even shorter stays at a facility are expensive and health insurance plans do not cover long-term care.
Drunk driving accident victims who have a separate insurance policy for long-term nursing care will not feel the financial pain as much as those who do not. In some cases, family members choose to provide care to their loved ones at home because they cannot afford a facility or home health nurse. Not only is this a massive physical undertaking, but it forces some family members to quit their jobs.
Severe drunk driving accidents require victims to take time away from work due to their injuries and recovery. If the victim partially contributed to the household income or was the primary breadwinner, unpaid time off puts a huge economic burden on families. Once an accident victim has used up their paid time off, personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage and disability payments can help alleviate some of the financial pressure if you carry it or your state requires it, as New Jersey and New York do.
Yet, severe injuries quickly meet or exceed PIP coverage limits for most and disability only covers 70 percent of the victim’s average weekly wage. If you live in a state that doesn’t require PIP, you will need to seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Lost Earning Capacity
Future lost wages, formally referred to as lost earning capacity, is another devastating financial impact of severe drunk driving accidents. Catastrophic injuries render it impossible for some accident victims to return to their jobs. Lost future wages hurt the financial health of a household as much, if not more than current lost wages. Like short-term disability payments, long-term disability payments only cover a portion of wages for those who qualify.
When children suffer catastrophic injuries, they cannot seek gainful employment in the future. The ability to work is not always a black and white proposition. Some injuries can reduce, but not eliminate earning capacity. For example, a person who suffers amputation as a result of a drunk driving accident cannot perform some types of work but can engage in others.
Many drunk driving accident victims are fortunate to return home after spending some time in the hospital. Yet, this doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling with conditions or disabilities related to their injuries. Sometimes victims or their family members need to modify the home to make it more accessible. Generally speaking, the more severe one’s injuries, the more modifications must be made to their home.
Some examples include installing grab bars and handrails in the shower, bathroom, and throughout the house. Some drunk driving accident victims suffer injuries that leave them unable to go up and down steps, requiring the construction of a main floor living area. Home modifications are not always extremely costly. Some victims may only need to spend a few hundred dollars, but larger projects can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Before a drunk driving accident, a victim likely contributes to maintaining a household by cleaning, doing yard work, shoveling show, doing laundry, taking care of children, or more. Injuries can temporarily or permanently prevent victims from doing household tasks they did before the injury. Families can pick up some of the slack, but often need to employ people or businesses to replace the services their loved one used to provide.
This can include hiring a lawn care service, a cleaning service, and a snow removal service. Families sometimes hire nannies or need to use a daycare center. In severe cases, a victim or his family might hire a costly personal assistant who can also help with driving, running errands, grocery shopping, and cooking.
If you suffered injuries in a drunk driving accident, you need to consult a drunk driving accident attorney as soon as possible to ensure you get the compensation you deserve for the accident and your injuries.