COVID-19 Causes Increase in Fatal Drunk Driving Crashes

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Another grim result of the COVID-19 pandemic could be an increase in fatal drunk driving crashes.

The pandemic has been stressful.  Stress can lead to more alcohol consumption, and evidence shows this has happened since the pandemic’s onset.

Research published in December 2020 (“Alcohol Consumption During the COVID-19 Pandemic” A Cross-Section Survey of U.S. Adults”) found a marked increase in drinking that corresponded with the start of the pandemic.  Sixty percent of those surveyed said their alcohol consumption increased. Just over a third reported binge drinking, and 7% reported extreme binge drinking.

The top reason given by survey participants for their increase in drinking was stress.

Research from Massachusetts General Hospital, published December 2021, found nationwide alcohol consumption increased some 21% during the pandemic (“Effect of Increased Alcohol Consumption During COVID-19 Pandemic on Alcohol-associated Liver Disease: A Modeling Study”).

The researchers project this alcohol consumption increase will result in a significant rise of fatal liver diseases over the next 20 years.

But another deadly result may have occurred much sooner.  An increase in drinking, fueled by the pandemic, could cause more deaths from drunk-driving crashes.

Rise in Fatal Traffic Accidents

Federal data show that fatal motor vehicle accidents have spiked in recent years. In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report that traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2021 jumped 12% compared to the same period in 2020.

The report says the projected 31,720 deaths between January and September 2021 is the highest since 2006.

NHTSA estimates Missouri traffic accident deaths in that period increased nearly 8% - up to 789 people killed in Missouri car crashes.

DUI Crashes are Preventable

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a major safety concern.  So much so the National Transportation Safety Board included “Preventing Alcohol and Other Drug-Impaired Driving” on its 2021-2022 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. NTSB notes that drunk driving is “100% preventable.”

A federal government report reveals that drunk drivers are involved in more than one-quarter of all traffic accident deaths.

NHTSA’s “Alcohol-Impaired Driving” report for 2019 – the most recent year for finalized data – documents that 10,142 people died in drunk-driving accidents.  That’s 28% of all traffic crash deaths that year.

Put another way, a drunk-driving death occurred on average every 52 minutes in 2019.

It does show a small drop in drunk-driving accident deaths from 2018 to 2019.  But that was before the pandemic and the resulting rise in alcohol consumption.

Pedestrian Deaths Involving Drunk Drivers

Overall traffic accident deaths have increased in recent years, but pedestrian and bicyclist deaths have risen even more dramatically.  From 2010 to 2019, pedestrian deaths rose 46%, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a consortium of state roadway safety and law enforcement officials.

GHSA notes that 13% of pedestrian deaths in 2019 involved a drunk driver – an individual with a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher.

A BAC of .08% is the legal threshold for drunk-driving. A 2021 study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (“Potential Lives Saved by In-vehicle Alcohol Detection Systems”) concludes that drunk-driving deaths would fall 12,000 annually if those with a BAC of .08% or higher were prevented from driving by onboard technology.

The federal government is recommending lowering the BAC.  It sites Utah’s recent experience after it dropped the state’s drunk-driving threshold to .05% in 2018.  In one year Utah’s fatal motor vehicle accidents fell nearly 20%.

The federal government has not released finalized data for fatal drunk driving accidents beyond 2019.  But a pandemic-induced rise in alcohol consumption potentially lessens the safety of motorists and pedestrians.

If you were seriously injured or lost a loved one in a crash caused by a drunk driver, a personal injury attorney can help you pursue just compensation for such negligent behavior.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles April 1, 2022

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