New Statistics: 9% of You Drove “Drunk” Last Month

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on May 14th, 2008

What do you do when literally millions of American citizens admit to violating a law on a regular basis — say, at least once a month?  How do you catch that many?  How do you build enough jails?  Or is it time to maybe take a second look at that law?   

 Study: 9% of Us Admit to Drunk Driving

U.S.A. Today  -  Despite nearly 30 years of media campaigns detailing the dangers of drunken driving, almost one in 11 people admit to driving when they thought they were legally intoxicated, according to a survey released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

 Of 2,509 adults surveyed, 9% said they had driven within the previous 30 days when they believed their blood-alcohol content was .08% or above, the legal threshold for drunken driving in all states and Washington, D.C. The AAA Foundation is a non-profit research and education group founded by AAA auto club in 1947.

The results resemble those of an unrelated, larger study released last week by the federal government. The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s survey of 127,000 adults found that 15% of drivers 18 and older said they had driven under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year.

"It’s frightening," says Aaron White, adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center who studies drunken driving among young people. "If you’ve got 10% of the people saying I drove when I was over the legal limit, you’ve probably got another chunk of people that would say I drank and drove but I wasn’t over the limit."

White and his colleagues just completed a study of 5,000 recent high school graduates; they found 10% of the grads had drunk and driven within two weeks of being questioned…

Think about that.  Millions of people in the U.S. are driving with .08% blood-alcohol on a fairly regular basis – and that’s just counting the ones who admit it.

Maybe it’s time to recognize certain realities.  Rather than dismantling the Constitution and destroying the lives of countless citizens who statistically pose little danger, perhaps we should take a closer look at how the law addresses the problem.  Such as recognizing that a .08% blood-alcohol  level is an arbitrary figure, failing to recognize individual tolerance to alcohol.  The original level, as recommended years ago by the American Medical Association, was .15%.  See my post, DUI, MADD and the New Prohibition.  

Such as focusing instead on the small percentage of drivers who pose the greatest risk of harming others. 

The simple fact is that a small percentage of drivers pose the largest risk – those who abuse alcohol.  As any experienced DUI attorney will tell you, the risk is not from the vast majority of drivers who are over an arbitrary .08% level; it is from the chronic alcoholic who has a .24% BAC.  See my previous post, Time for a Change

So what was MADD’s reaction to the newly-released statistics?  From the same U.S.A. Today article:


…The most effective way to combat that attitude is with mandatory ignition interlocks for anyone convicted of drunken driving, says Heidi Castle, vice president of communications for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "People continue to drive drunk because they can, and ignition interlocks stop that," she says.

A typically naive and simplistic approach to a complex problem.  See my guest editorial in Business WeekMADD Announces End to Drunk Driving: A Reply

  • jim

    i would agree that mandatory interlock on cars are needed, but i would go one step further. every car registered in the united states, sold in the united states, needs to have an alcohol interlock on it. this would end the problem immediatley. never again, or very rarely can a person be suspected of dui, unless of course they were drinking while driving the car, while the car was on. my proposed national interlock problem would curtail drunk driving and drunk driving arrests by over 90 percent.

    it is a political challange , but their are companies out there making interlocks, and could be persuaded to grow their businesses with the mandatory national interlock program.

    i hate dui. i have suffered greatly from the 32 month delay and ongoing for my 0.08 bac first offense dui that i can not get a trial for.

    i say lets end the insaneity, and equip all vehicles with an interlock.


  • joe

    The difficulty of lumping all people together for a particular “perceived” crime is that lawsuits will abound and the law will simply look lose its fangs. Instead of high-tech equipment to punish offenders, why not offer treatment to help people with their alcholo problem (if they have one)? We like to pass laws that condemn people and muke us all feel safer, but are we going to believe that no one will ever borrow a car and drive drunk? Interlocking breaks, breath testing machines attached to car ignitions and so forth are costly and don’t treat the problem.

  • llDayo

    If a BAC of .08 was really such a bad thing and caused a significant decrease in driving skill I’m sure I would have gotten pulled over numerous times over the years. It’s ridiculous how strict the rules are. They don’t change a thing and they won’t stop people from driving with alcohol in their systems. We really need to focus on ways of keeping people who are an actual danger on the road from driving, not ones who are just out to shoot some pool, drink a few beers with friends, and have a good time. Personally, I’m willing to bet that 9% figure is low.

  • jamakavi

    Jim, in theory your solution works. However, people will just find a way around it. Having someone else blow, using a air pump, whatever to circumvent the interlock. Combine it with the fact your then punishing people who have never had a DUI with this machine and its associated costs. In addition, its another distraction added to driving.

    Bascially DUI boils down to personal responsibility. The way the rules are set up, its a stupid gamble.

  • koivisto


    Perhaps we should test the IQ’s of drivers too, I don’t like to be on the road with someone that is not as smart as me and is incapable of making wise choices. Also we should test for tempers, mechanical shape of the car, reflexes, sensory intake speeds, night vision, muscular control, brake pedal resistance, brain function, waking state. I say if we put in interlocks, lets add the above testing as well, so we can achieve our goal of safe roads. That in place they can die of other causes. Jim your logic is flawed and should not be allowed to drive.

  • jim


  • jim

    another part of my point is very very few people who drive at or above the 0,08% bac will ever get caught by police.
    to eliminate anyone driving with a bac 0.08% or greater, the government should pass a law that all cars need to have an alcohol interlock on it.

    this would save police, billions of dollars a year , combined acroos the country in dui patrols.