Traffic Safety Facts 1997
U.S. Department of Transportation
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines a fatal traffic crash as being alcohol-related if either a driver or a nonoccupant (e.g., pedestrian) had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.01 grams per deciliter (g/dl) or greater in a police-reported traffic crash. Persons with a BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater involved in fatal crashes are considered to be intoxicated. This is the legal limit of intoxication in most states.
Traffic fatalities in alcohol-related crashes fell by 6 percent from 1996 to 1997. The 16,189 alcohol-related fatalities in 1997 (38.6 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year) represent a 32 percent reduction from the 23,641 alcohol-related fatalities reported in 1987 (51.0 percent of the total).
NHTSA estimates that alcohol was involved in 39 percent of fatal crashes and in 7 percent of all crashes in 1997.
The 16,189 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes during 1997 represent an average of one alcohol-related fatality every 32 minutes.
More than 327,000 persons were injured in crashes where police reported that alcohol was present -- an average of one person injured approximately every 2 minutes.
Approximately 1.5 million drivers were arrested in 1996 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. This is an arrest rate of 1 for every 122 licensed drivers in the United States (1997 data not yet available).
About 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives.
In 1997, 30 percent of all traffic fatalities occurred in crashes in which at least one driver or nonoccupant had a BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater. More than 68.5 of the 12,704 people killed in such crashes were themselves intoxicated. The remaining 31.5 were passengers, nonintoxicated drivers, or nonintoxicated nonoccupants.
The rate of alcohol involvement in fatal crashes is 3.5 times as high at night as during the day (59.8 percent vs. 17.0 percent). For all crashes, the alcohol involvement rate is 4.9 times as high at night (15 percent vs. 3 percent).
In 1997, 29 percent of all fatal crashes during the week were alcohol-related, compared to 52 percent on weekends. For all crashes, the alcohol involvement rate was 5 percent during the week and 12 percent during the weekend.
From 1987 to 1997, intoxication rates decreased for drivers of all age groups involved in fatal crashes. Drivers 16 to 20 years old experienced the largest decrease in intoxication rates (32 percent), followed by drivers over 64 years old (27 percent).
The highest intoxication rates in fatal crashes in 1997 were recorded for drivers 21-24 years old (26.3 percent), followed by ages 25-34 (23.8 percent) and 35-44 (22.1 percent).
Intoxication rates for drivers in fatal crashes in 1997 were highest for motorcycle operators (27.9 percent) and lowest for drivers of large trucks (1.1 percent). The intoxication rate for drivers of light trucks was higher than that for passenger car drivers (20.2 percent and 18.2 percent, respectively).
Safety belts were used by only 18.5 percent of the fatally injured intoxicated drivers (BAC of 0.10 g/dl or greater), compared to 31.8 percent of fatally injured impaired drivers (BAC between 0.01 g/dl and 0.09 g/dl) and 47.5 percent of fatally injured sober drivers.
Fatally injured drivers with BAC levels of 0.10 g/dl or greater were seven times as likely to have a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated compared to fatally injured sober drivers (11.3 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively).
Nearly one-third (33 percent) of all pedestrians 16 years of age or older killed in traffic crashes in 1997 were intoxicated. By age group, the percentages ranged from a low of 9.3 percent for pedestrians 65 and over to a high of 49.8 percent for those 25 to 34 years old.
The driver, pedestrian, or both were intoxicated in 37 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes in 1997. In these crashes, the intoxication rate for pedestrians was more than double the rate for drivers -- 29.5 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively. Both the pedestrian and the driver were intoxicated in 5.3 percent of the crashes that resulted in a pedestrian fatality.
All states and the District of Columbia now have 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws. NHTSA estimates that these laws have reduced traffic fatalities involving drivers 18 to 20 years old by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 17,359 lives since 1975. In 1997, an estimated 846 lives were saved by minimum drinking age laws.
On the following pages, Tables 2, 3, 4, and 5 present summary data on alcohol involvement in fatal crashes in 1997, compared with 1987 data. Table 6 shows alcohol involvement in fatal traffic crashes by state.