Although drunk driving fatalities in the United States have been reduced by nearly 50% since the early 1980s, thanks to harsher penalties for DUI’s and the work of awareness groups like MADD, alcohol-impaired driving remains a serious problem on America’s roadways.

In 2018, 29% of total motor vehicle fatalities were a result of alcohol impairment, wherein an operator of a vehicle involved in the crash had a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater. The good news is that this is the lowest percentage of alcohol-related fatalities since the NHTSA began reporting alcohol data in 1982. However, the rate is much higher in some states compared to others.

To give you a full picture of the current drunk driving situation in the U.S., we used the latest FBI arrest figures, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics on fatal motor vehicle crashes, and U.S. Census data to rank all 50 states based on the severity of their DUI problem. 

We calculated our DUI severity score using each state’s DUI arrest rate per 100,000 population and the DUI fatality rate per 100,000 population. View the results in the heat map, below
best and worst states for drunk driving

Drunk Driving Statistics: Analysis 

  • The north-central region comprising Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas is by far the worst area for drunk driving in the United States, with the four states taking the top 4 positions in our ranking. Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota have the top three DUI arrest rates, while Montana and Wyoming have the two highest DUI death rates.

  • The south is the deadliest region for drunk driving: 7 of the 12 states with the highest DUI death rates belong to the region (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Carolina). 

  • States in the northeast and midwest have the least severe problem with drunk driving: of the 15 states with the lowest DUI severity scores, 11 (if you count Maryland as a northeastern state) belong to one of the two regions.

  • Massachusetts is the state with the drunk driving problem of overall least concern, boasting both the 3rd lowest DUI arrest rate and the 3rd lowest DUI death rate.

  • Montana has the highest share of alcohol-related traffic deaths, at 43%. Followed by Texas at 40%.

  • West Virginia and Kentucky have the lowest share of alcohol-related traffic deaths, with 19%. Yet, Kentucky’s DUI arrest rate of 423.13 per 100K is significantly higher than West Virginia’s.

  • 17 states witnessed a net increase in DUI fatalities, while 33 witnessed net decreases.

  • The state with the greatest percentage increase in DUI fatalities was New Hampshire, posting a considerable 77.80% increase in DUI fatalities over the previous year.  

  • Rhode Island saw the most significant decrease in DUI fatalities, with a 41.2% drop.

States with the Worst DUI Problems

RankStateDUI ArrestsDUI Arrest Rate (per 100K)DUI FatalitiesRate of Total Traffic DeathsDUI Fatalities Increase/Decrease over Prior YearDUI Death Rate (per 100K)DUI Severity Score
1Wyoming3,432676.103430%-26.10%5.8912.65
2South Dakota5,891721.934535%25%5.1012.32
3Montana3,794381.247943%38.60%7.4411.25
4North Dakota5,136678.352927%-38.30%3.8210.60
5Mississippi5,370462.2116325%6.50%5.4610.08
6New Mexico6,464459.6710828%-4.40%5.159.75
7North Carolina27,915518.8242129%5%4.059.24
8South Carolina15,188344.4829128%-4.60%5.729.17
9Alaska3,148429.032936%31.80%3.938.22
10Wisconsin24,368425.2619934%5.30%3.427.68
11Texas69,643259.58143940%-2.80%4.937.52
12Maine5,811434.174230%-14.30%3.147.48
13Colorado20,353410.9618830%6.80%3.307.41
14New Hampshire5,053383.604833%77.80%3.547.37
15Oregon13,707369.4615330%4.80%3.657.35
16Kentucky14,812423.1313719%-23.50%3.077.30
17Alabama6,391208.1224626%-7.20%5.037.11
18Georgia23,449347.7937525%5.30%3.567.04
19Idaho5,689365.865825%-9.40%3.316.96
20Arizona19,200291.5228528%5.90%3.976.89
21Arkansas5,761218.2113426%-8.20%4.456.63
22Tennessee19,108300.2824323%-3.20%3.596.59
23Vermont2,576418.371523%-11.80%2.406.58
24Nevada10,984364.518726%-1.10%2.876.51
25Washington27,632430.1916630%-5.70%2.206.50
26Kansas4,554347.948822%-15.40%3.026.50
27Nebraska4,630305.386629%-4.30%3.426.47
28Iowa10,082375.238527%-5.60%2.696.45
29Indiana11,890295.3722726%-13.40%3.396.35
30Hawaii4,288373.483530%-16.70%2.466.20
31West Virginia3,141298.545719%-18.60%3.166.14
32Missouri11,874219.6124026%-2.80%3.926.11
33Pennsylvania43,798346.7933428%4%2.616.08
34Louisiana5,650142.8821628%1.40%4.646.06
35Oklahoma8,660225.0714522%-9.90%3.685.93
36California127,250322.71106930%-6.80%2.685.91
37Minnesota20,186362.3510528%25%1.875.49
38Connecticut7,484216.4411539%-3.40%3.225.38
39Virginia20,885253.4524029%-2%2.825.35
40Florida32,127150.9881426%-3.20%3.825.33
41Michigan26,130265.0726727%-12.50%2.675.32
42Maryland18,150308.7112224%-33%2.025.11
43Utah7,119266.536123%13%1.934.60
44New York25,094262.1830733%6.60%1.574.19
45Rhode Island2,423229.172034%-41.20%1.894.18
46Ohio13,723152.2829428%-10.60%2.524.04
47New Jersey17,230219.6412522%3.30%1.403.60
48Illinois2,82598.5930930%-13.40%2.433.41
49Delaware42744.292825%-9.70%2.903.34
50Massachusetts8,280140.7112033%-3.20%1.743.15

Summary

Overall, when looking at the decrease in drunk driving fatalities and arrests in the United States over time, the situation is promising. As we mentioned in the intro, 2018 witnessed the lowest percentage of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities since data began to be compiled on the subject, and 2018 saw a 3.6% drop over the prior year. Promisingly, two of the worst states for drunk driving, North Dakota and Wyoming, had two of the most significant decreases in alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities (ND = -38.30%, Wyoming = 26.10%).

We still have a long way to go: thousands lose their lives each year in alcohol-related fatalities, which in turn profoundly affects the lives of families across the country, but when it comes to drinking and driving in the U.S., the outlook is a positive one. 

Methodology

In order to rank the states by the severity of their DUI problem, the DUI severity score was calculated using DUI arrest rates per 100K and DUI fatalities per 100K. Rates per 100K were calculated using the latest 2018 FBI Arrest statistics for DUI arrests, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics for DUI fatalities. Due to the fact that the FBI arrest data was incomplete and not covering a state’s entire population in some cases, the population figure posted by the FBI was used to calculate the DUI arrest rate per 100 for all 50 states. To calculate the DUI fatality rate per 100K, the latest census population data was used. Note: 2018 Iowa arrest data was not available so data from the 2017 FBI report was used in its place. 

Trent Wilson
 

Trent Wilson is the open data analyst for BackgroundChecks.org. He loves crunching numbers and finding public data sets that shine light on thorny issues and public policy across the world. When he's not looking for new data or issuing Freedom of Information Requests, Trent enjoys Stand Up Paddling and wind surfing near his home on the west coast.

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