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Many Drunk Drivers Are Not Problem Drinkers

40 Percent of Drunk Drivers Are Not Heavy Drinkers


Updated February 12, 2014

Not all drunk drivers are problem drinkers, so prevention efforts should be targeted at a wider range of drinkers, not just the chronic heavy drinkers, researchers have concluded.

A study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicated that 40 percent of drivers killed in traffic crashes with a high blood alcohol content were not problem drinkers, according to their family members.

High Risk Drivers

The researchers studied the relationship between drivers' drinking habits, as reported by family members, and blood alcohol concentrations at the time of death. The study included 818 drivers whose blood alcohol concentrations were recorded by the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Safety Administration.

The study found that only 31 percent of those killed in alcohol-related traffic fatalities had high levels of alcohol in their blood -- more than .15 BAC.

"For many years people thought the way to deter drunk driving was to impose tougher sanctions," Elisa Braver, co-author of the study and senior epidemiologist at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said in a news release. "What our research found was it wasn't a question of making penalties more severe. People have to feel that if they do drink too much and then drive, they have a high risk of being caught."

Targeting a Wider Range of Drivers

The idea of targeting a wider range of drinkers for drunk driving prevention is not as popular as targeting heavy drinkers, mostly attributed to the expense of such an effort.

The findings also contradict the practice of allowing those arrested for drunk driving to attend treatment programs or support meetings rather than face jail time, since nearly half of drunk drivers are not problem drinkers in the first place, the study suggests.


S.P. Baker, et. al. Drinking histories of fatally injured drivers. Injury Prevention 2002;8:221-226.

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