Alcohol is a Factor in 39% of All Fatal Traffic Crashes

Advocates calls for state legislators to heed the facts and pass .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits

Impaired Driving

In 1998, nearly 42,000 people were killed in traffic crashes and almost 3.2 million more were injured, at a cost of over $150 billion. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol was a factor in 39 percent of all fatal traffic crashes in 1998 and seven percent of all crashes that year.

Thirty-one states have laws that set 0.10 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as the per se limit, making it illegal to drive with a BAC at or above that level. An illegal per se law makes it illegal in and of itself to drive with a BAC at or above the established limit. Under a per se law, a Breathalyzer test alone is sufficient evidence to go forward with a drunk driving charge. Only two states, Massachusetts and South Carolina, do not have a per se law.

The probability of having a crash rises dramatically when a driver reaches and exceeds 0.08 percent BAC. Through the persistent efforts of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, MADD, and other safety organizations, 17 states and the District of Columbia set their BAC limit at 0.08 percent. A number of additional states are considering lowering their BAC limit to 0.08 percent per se.

JAMA Studies Say Alcohol a Key Factor in Child Fatalities in Crashes

Advocates calls for state legislators to heed the facts and pass .08 Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limits.

(Washington, D.C.) Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) today highlighted two new studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which show approximately 25 percent of all child fatalities that occur in motor vehicles involved alcohol. Of these, over 60 percent of child passenger deaths were the result of a child riding with a drunk driver.

Judith Lee Stone, President of Advocates welcomed the studies’ findings; "This latest research provides yet more compelling evidence of the dangerous effect that alcohol has on all drivers and the tragic impact that it has on the lives of so many innocent children."

"Airline pilots are required to be alcohol free when they fly and yet many states still allow motor vehicle drivers to drink as much as six glasses of beer on an empty stomach and then legally get behind the wheel. This is bad public policy, and puts ours kids needlessly at risk. The JAMA research serves to underline the need for BAC limits set at .08, instead of .10, as is still the case for 32 States," stressed Stone.

The analysis shows that a majority of alcohol driver-related child fatalities resulted from the child riding unrestrained in the car, and the more the driver drank the less likely it was that the child would be restrained properly. "The message is clear – drinking impairs judgment and drunk drivers take greater risks with their children’s lives," states Stone. Motor vehicle -related injury is the leading cause of death for children and young people aged 1-24 in the United States.

Advocates is campaigning in states across America in support of local laws that make a BAC of .08 percent the maximum permitted under the law. Such .08 percent BAC laws make it illegal to drive when the concentration of alcohol in the blood stream reaches .08 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, safety, law enforcement, public health and insurance organizations working to reduce deaths and injuries on our nation's highways. For more information please visit site at Contact Stuart P. Mackintosh at (202) 408-1711 for further information.


  • The 15,935 fatalities in alcohol-related crashes in 1998 represent, on average, one alcohol-related crash fatality every 33 minutes. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, 1999)
  • More than 305,000 people were injured in 1998 in crashes in which police reported the presence of alcohol. (NHTSA, 1999)
    Approximately three out of every ten adults will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic crash at some time in their lives. (NHTSA, 1999)
  • Alcohol-related crashes cost society more than $45 billion a year. Just one alcohol-related crash is estimated to cost approximately $950,000. (NHTSA, 1997)


  • The relative risk of being killed in a single-vehicle crash is 11 times greater at BACs between 0.05 and 0.09 percent than at a BAC of 0.0 percent (no alcohol). (Zador, 1991)
  • The average 170-pound male would need to consume more than four drinks in an hour on an empty stomach to reach a BAC of 0.08 percent. An average 137-pound female would need three drinks in one hour on an empty stomach to reach that level. (NHTSA, 1997)
  • 0.08 percent BAC is a level at which all drivers, even experienced ones, are impaired with respect to critical driving skills. (NHTSA, 1997)
  • Most other industrialized countries set their legal BAC level at .08 percent or lower. The BAC level is .08 in Canada, Austria, Great Britain and Switzerland; .05 in Australia, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands; and .02 in Sweden. (NHTSA, 1997)
  • In 1996, five states that reduced their BAC levels to 0.08 percent saw a 16 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatal crashes in which the fatally injured driver had a 0.08 BAC or higher and an 18 percent reduction for drivers with very high BAC levels of 0.15 percent or more. (Hingson et al., 1996)
  • An estimated 500-600 lives would be saved every year if ALL states adopted 0.08 percent BAC laws. (Hingson et al., 1996)
  • A 1995 study analyzing driver involvement in alcohol-related fatal crashes for five states with 0.08 percent BAC limits showed significant decreases in such crashes after implementation of the law in four out of the five states compared with states at 0.10 percent BAC laws. (Johnson and Fell, NHTSA, 1995)
  • California experienced a 12 percent reduction in alcohol-related fatalities after it lowered its legal BAC limit to 0.08 percent. Some of this reduction is credited to the administrative license revocation law implemented at the same time. The state also saw an increase in arrests for driving under the influence. (NHTSA, 1997)

Read further for State by State Youth Alcohol-Related Fatality Rates.

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