Impaired Driving

You Drink and Drive. You Lose

Impaired driving is an issue at the forefront of America's public safety agenda, but has faded in visibility over the past few years. Public apathy and confusion over what constitutes impaired driving have contributed to the existing gap between the public perception that impaired driving is no longer a problem. The tragic reality is that nearly 16,000 lives were lost as a result of impaired driving in 1998, the last year of compiled national statistics.

In 1998, 15,935 fatalities and 305,000 injuries were related to impaired driving, accounting for one fatality nearly every 33 minutes and one injury every two minutes. Additionally, traffic-related crashes annually result in more than $45 billion in economic costs.

Impaired driving poses a significant threat for underage drivers (individuals under age 21) and presents a unique challenge to law enforcement agencies. In order to address the special concerns about this group, zero tolerance laws have been enacted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to focus on underage drivers.

Research shows that more than 33 percent of all fatalities of 15 through 20 year olds resulted from motor vehicle crashes, and of these, more than 35 percent are alcohol-related. In 1998, 14 percent of underage drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positively for alcohol in their system. Young impaired drivers are involved in fatal crashes at approximately twice the rate of drivers aged 21 and over. Research has shown that young impaired drivers are less likely to be detained and arrested than their adult counterparts.

The message is a simple one: Make the right choice - don't drink and drive. Yet, we know that thousands of Americans every year continue to make the wrong choices. Every day hundreds of families and communities experience the tragedy and pain inflicted by impaired drivers. The loss extends beyond fatalities and the impact on families. Everyone pays for impaired driving with higher taxes, higher health care costs and higher insurance premiums.

Incidence of Impaired Driving

For one male of every 200 driven in the State of Tennessee in 1997, a legally intoxicated driver sat behind the wheel. Tennessee police report that 10,436 motor vehicle accidents involving a driver or pedestrian with a positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimated that a total of 28,900 crashes in Tennessee involved alcohol. These crashes killed 496 and injured an estimated 11,700 people.

Impaired Driving by Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC)

In 1997, Tennessee drivers with:

  • BACs of .10 and above were involved in an estimated 27,500 crashes that killed 406 and injured 10,200.
  • BACs between .08-.09 were involved in an estimated 500 crashes that killed 26 and injured 500.
  • Positive BACs below .08 were involved in an estimated 900 crashes that killed 64 and injured 1,000.


Alcohol is a factor in 37% of Tennessee crash costs. Alcohol-related crashes in Tennessee cost the public more than $2.2 billion in 1997, including more than $0.9 billion in monetary costs and almost $1.3 billion in quality life losses. Alcohol-related crashes are deadlier and more serious than that of other crashes. People other than the drinking driver paid $0.9 billion of the alcohol-related crash bill

Costs Per Alcohol-related Injury

The average alcohol related fatality in Tennessee costs $2.8 million:

  • $1.1 million in monetary costs
  • $1.7 million in quality of life losses

The estimated cost per injured survivor of an alcohol-related crash averaged $70,000:

  • $30,000 in monetary costs
  • $40,000 in quality of life losses

Costs Per Mile Driven

Crash costs in Tennessee averaged:

  • $3.90 per mile driven at BAC .10 and above
  • $1.70 per mile driven at BACs between .08-.09
  • $0.10 per mile driven at BACs of .00

Costs Per Drink

The societal costs of alcohol-related crashes in Tennessee averaged $0.90 per drink consumed. People other than the drinking driver paid $0.40 per drink.

Impact on Auto Insurance Rates

Alcohol-related crashes accounted for an estimated 12% of Tennessee's auto insurance payments. Reducing alcohol-related crashes by 10% would save $60 million in claims payments and loss adjustment expenses.

Prevention Savings

Tennessee already has many important impaired driving laws. However, a number of additional strategies can be used to mitigate the harm from impaired driving.

  • Enforcing Serving Intoxicated Patrons Law: Using undercover police officers to enforce Tennessee's law against serving alcohol to intoxicated bar and restaurant patrons would reduce alcohol-related crash fatalities by an estimated 11%. It would cost $0.20 per licensed driver and save $20 per licensed driver.
  • Administrative License Revocation: A law allowing Tennessee police or driver licensing authorities to revoke a driver's license swiftly and automatically for refusing or failing a BAC test would reduce alcohol-related fatalities by 6.5% and save an estimated $28,500 per driver sanctioned. The value of the driver's lost mobility of the $1,600 cost per driver sanctioned. Reinstatement fees assessed to offenders more than start-up and operating costs.
  • .08 BAC Law: Lowering Tennessee's BAC limit to .08 would reduce alcohol-related fatalities by 8% and save an estimated $2 per licensed driver. The value of mobility losses and alcohol sales reductions resulting from the law are the large majority of the $0.10 cost per licensed driver.
  • Graduated Licensing: Graduated licensing would impose a nighttime driving restriction or passenger limits for young novice drivers in Tennessee. Graduated licensing with a midnight curfew would reduce youth fatalities by 5%-*% and total alcohol-related fatalities by 2%. It would save an estimated $400 per youthful driver. The value of the mobility lost by youth is the large majority of the $400 cost per youthful driver.
  • Sobriety Checkpoint Program: Continued intensive enforcement of Tennessee's BAC limit with highly visible sobriety checkpoints will continue to reduce alcohol-related fatalities by at least 15% and save $34,000 per checkpoint.
  • Primary Belt Law: Primary belt laws allow law enforcement to stop and ticket a driver for non-use of a safety belt without requiring the driver to be cited for or have committed another offense. Unbelted drivers account for 75% of impaired fatalities. A primary belt law can reduce alcohol-related fatalities in Tennessee by 10%. The law would save $100 per licensed driver. If enforced with frequent belt-use checkpoints, the value of temporary discomfort experienced by some new belt wearers and travel delay costs at checkpoints would be the large majority of the law's $2.30 cost per licensed driver.

The information on this page is developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Information from the "You Drink & Drive. You Lose" Program.