2021 Traffic Fatalities a Call to Action to Reduce Drunk Driving

Drunk driving trends continue moving in the wrong direction.

Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities rose by 14% from 2020 to 2021 in the United States, according to data recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This sizable increase comes as a variety of factors make Americans more and more unsafe on highways, including higher rates of drunk driving, increased distracted driving, and more speeding-related fatalities. 

While impaired driving data isn’t final for 2022, early estimates for the first half of 2022 showed similarly high numbers of alcohol-involved crashes, including a marginal increase from the prior year. 

The 13,384 drunk driving deaths America saw in 2021, up from 11,654 in 2020, leaves thousands of grieving mothers, fathers, children and friends. This double-digit increase is a warning to industry leaders and policymakers that more must be done to address this crisis. 

Further, alcohol-impaired fatalities increased during every month from the prior year – with especially large increases in January, March, April and May of 2021. Such bad news indicates that policymakers aren’t doing enough to limit the effects of driving under the influence. 

What would help? For one thing, expanding ignition interlock device (IID) laws would decrease the number of drunk driving accidents. Studies have found that states which require all drunk driving offenders to install IIDs see a corresponding decrease in alcohol-involved crashes. Twenty states currently lack such a requirement, an essential tool to reduce drunk driving considering one-third of all drunk driving incidents involve repeat offenders. 

All-offender laws are key, but there are also other proposals relating to IIDs that could move the needle on curbing drunk driving. Removing waiting periods for DUI offenders to install the device, closing existing loopholes allowing some offenders to escape an IID installation, and providing federal incentives for states to expand the use of this technology would remove dangerous drivers from America’s highways and save lives. 

Additionally, a new proposal is gaining steam to lower the legal limit for driving under the influence from .08 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) to .05. Utah is the only state to implement such a law and has seen success thus far in the form of fewer fatal crashes. Legislators in other states are following Utah’s lead and filing similar bills, the first step in an effort to move the proposal to the forefront of the legislative conversation. 

Drunk driving remains a major contributor to the alarming increase in traffic fatalities. Expanding IID laws and lowering BAC limits, coupled with more educational efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, would play a key role in reducing traffic deaths and creating safer roads for all. 

Sabra Rosener is the VP of Legislative Affairs for Intoxalock, a manufacturer of Ignition Interlock Devices and member of the Sober Driving Solutions coalition.