What If Drunk Driving Disappeared?

Orlando Drunk Driving Accident

It’s an interesting question: If drunk driving did not exist in Florida and across the country in 2014, how much would we save in terms of human lives and economic costs?

To answer this question, we first looked alcohol-impaired driving statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) over a five-year period covering 2008 to 2012 (the most recent year for which statistics are available – see the NHTSA’s Traffic Safety Fact Sheets).

According to the NHTSA, during that period 53,040 people died nationally in crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher (the legal driving limit in all 50 states), while 3,718 people died in such crashes in the state of Florida.

In other words, if there was no such thing as drunk driving, an average of 10,608 lives would be spared across the country each year, including 744 lives in Florida.

AlcoholImpairedDrivingFatalities

*Crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher

To determine how much we could save in terms of economic costs if drunk driving disappeared, we looked at a study released by the NHTSA in May 2014, “The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes.”

In the study, researchers came up with two basic calculations for the “costs” of motor vehicle accidents:

  • Economic costs – Including medical costs, property damage losses, lost productivity and congestion impacts.
  • Societal impacts – Including economic costs as well as intangible factors such as pain and suffering and lost quality of life.

We won’t go into detail on how the NHTSA arrived at its societal impact figures. However, here is what the study found for the year 2010 in terms of total costs and costs per person (based on a 2010 population of 308.7 million):

EconomicCostsOfDrunkDriving

 

SocietalImpactsOfDrunkDriving

An alcohol-involved crash is defined as one with at least one driver having a BAC of .01 or above. Not all crashes involving alcohol are caused by a driver’s alcohol use or intoxication, according to the NHTSA. Hence, the federal agency provided a separate category for “alcohol-caused crashes.”

Using the 2010 dollar figures for “alcohol-caused crashes,” and adjusting for inflation, we could conclude that, if drunk driving didn’t exist in 2014, we would save in 2014 (using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator):

  • $173 in economic costs (the equivalent of about 53 gallons of gas)

Gasoline53

  • $693 per person in societal impact (or about 213 gallons of gas).

Gasoline213

Admittedly, the above numbers are simply estimates. However, by looking at them, this much should be clear: There are very real physical, emotional and financial losses caused by drunk driving, and they are simply too high.

We can all take responsibility for ourselves and never get behind the wheel of a car after drinking. That’s the best way to make this problem disappear.

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