Why Are Drunk Driving Cases Increasing?

Drunk driving has always been a problem, and a leading cause of traffic accidents throughout the country. Multiple organizations, including law enforcement, schools, and independent groups have lobbied for greater safety education and emphasis on the dangers of driving while intoxicated. So why is it that 2016 was one of the worst years on record for drunk driving?

The Stats

According to a recent report, 10,265 people were killed in 2015 (the last year on record), and data suggests that 2016 was an even deadlier year. Every day, 28 people are killed by a drunk driver-which adds up to 1 every 51 minutes or so. Every year, the total cost of alcohol-related crashes exceeds $44 billion.

You know that drinking and driving is bad; you’ve been told this many times before, and have likely reminded your friends or loved ones about this in the past as well. We also know the statistics, and publish them in an effort to reduce the negative impact of intoxicated driving. Intuitively, these numbers should be decreasing, but they aren’t.

Possible Factors

There are a few possible reasons why these numbers aren’t decreasing:

  1. Alcohol consumption changes. There are currently more than 15 million people in the United States with alcohol abuse disorders. Rates of both alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse have risen consistently over the past several years. Drinking alcohol regularly doesn’t necessarily increase the prevalence of drunk driving, but it’s more likely for a person to drive while drunk if they frequently abuse alcohol. The increased number of alcohol abusers and alcohol dependents could be indirectly responsible for the increase in drunk driving deaths.
  2. Limited accountability. In some areas, a tavern or establishment serving alcohol can be held liable for a crash resulting from a drunk driver previously at that establishment. However, this legal ruling isn’t the norm everywhere. For the most part, only the driver directly responsible for driving under the influence will be charged after causing an accident. If punitive measures were more severe for establishments, it could be more effective than simple warnings and education programs about the dangers of drunk driving; more people would be forced to take action against would-be drunk drivers.
  3. Education failings. Collectively, we’ve been able to greatly increase the visibility and prominence of anti-drunk-driving messages. However, with the statistics showing that drunk driving is still a growing problem, it’s clear that there’s something ineffective in these messages. We may be saying the wrong things, speaking to the wrong audience, or displaying the messages in the wrong places.
  4. Demographic changes. Historically, males have been disproportionately responsible for drinking and driving, with 15 percent of men partaking in the act (compared to only 8 percent of women). However, the total number of women who drink and drive has increased by a surprising 36 percent over the course of the past decade. Still, this is only a minor effect, and only serves to complement the other contributing factors.
  5. Random statistical fluctuations. It is possible that the recent increases aren’t tied to any objectively reasonable influence; instead, it could be a random fluctuation, and in a few years, the numbers may fall back to where they were initially. There will always be some percentage of people who drink and drive, especially since drinking and driving is so common for repeat offenders, so the recent increases may not be a permanent rise.

It’s hard to say exactly why the number of drunk driving cases is increasing, but its increase is alarming, nonetheless. With 28 people dying every day due to intoxicated driving, there’s more we can do as a society to stop or slow these preventable deaths. If you consume alcohol, find a way home that doesn’t involve driving, and if you see someone drinking excessively, don’t let them drive. Even small contributions like these can help curtail the growth we’re seeing in this nationwide problem.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.