Find a Meeting Near You Phone icon 800-643-9618
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

Drinking and Driving: The Dangers of DUI

Not affiliated with AAWS, Inc visit

Get Help With Alcohol Addiction

Talk To Someone Now
Call toll free to:
  • Find meetings near you
  • Discover online or in person meetings
  • Get 24 hour information on addiction
All calls are 100% confidential
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

Drinking and driving is not only illegal, but it’s dangerous and can be deadly. Around 30% of all fatal car accidents in the United States involve an alcohol-impaired driver.1,2 Twenty-nine people in the United States die every day in car accidents involving a person under the influence of alcohol. This equates to around one death every 50 minutes.3

What is a DUI?

DUI (also called DWI or OWI in some states) is an abbreviation for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs that impair driving ability.4,5,6 Driver alcohol impairment is measured by blood alcohol content (BAC), the weight of the alcohol in a certain amount of blood.1 In the United States, the legal limit is 0.08%, except in Utah, where the limit is just .05%.1

Police officers patrol the roads at night and watch for drivers who may be impaired. An officer may pull you over if you are swerving in and out of lanes, you have your lights off, or you run a stop sign or red light. When a person is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, they are given a breathalyzer or blood test. A breathalyzer is a device that measures the amount of alcohol in a person’s breath. If a breathalyzer or blood test result indicates a person’s BAC is over the legal limit, that person will be charged with a DUI.

In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for DUI in the United States. However, the actual prevalence of drinking and driving is much higher, with 111 million U.S. adults self-reporting driving under the influence of alcohol.3

Call 800-839-1686 Toll Free. Privacy Guaranteed. No Commitment.

Help is standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

What Happens if You Have a DUI?

If you drink and drive, you could get arrested, or worse—you could be involved in a car crash that seriously injures or kills you or others. Driving under the influence is a serious crime punishable by law. Each state has its own drinking and driving laws. Driving under the influence may be considered a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the state and how many previous offenses a person has had.1-6

DUI penalties may include revocation of driver’s license, monetary fines, community service, and jail time. Licenses may be suspended for as little as 30 days or as long as five years. People may also be mandated to take a substance use assessment, enroll in professional treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), or undergo alcohol education or defensive driving courses.1-6

Some states, such as North Carolina, will seize the vehicle of anyone arrested for driving during the suspension period if their license was revoked for impaired driving. They also reduced the BAC limit to .04 for those who have previously been convicted of a DUI, meaning that once a person is convicted of impaired driving, they can receive another offense if they are caught driving with a BAC over .04.5

The costs of drinking and driving are high. First-time offenses can cost as much as $10,000 in court fines and legal fees. Receiving a DUI significantly raises your car insurance rates when your license is reinstated. Your DUI could also show up on a background check, which could prevent you from qualifying for certain jobs.1-6

All 50 states now require repeat DUI offenders to purchase and install an ignition interlock device, a breath test that will not allow the vehicle to operate unless the BAC is below a preset limit (usually .02 g/dL). Many states require this even for first-time offenders, particularly if aggravating circumstances were involved.1-6

Dangers of DUI

Alcohol alters the function of the brain. It impairs thinking, reasoning, reaction time, and muscle coordination, all of which are important for driving a vehicle safely. The more alcohol a person consumes, the greater the impairment to the central nervous system.1

Generally, people are unaware of how impaired they actually are. They misjudge the body’s rate of alcohol absorption and elimination, which may lead them to believe they are sobering up when in reality they are still impaired. People who misjudge their BAC are more likely to choose to drive after a couple of drinks even though it isn’t actually safe to do so.7

Even a small amount of alcohol can negatively affect driving ability. In 2019, there were 1,775 fatalities from alcohol-related crashes where the driver’s BAC was between .01-.07, which is below the legal limit. This makes up nearly 20% of the 10,142 preventable drunk driving deaths that occurred that year.1

Alcohol can also interact with many different prescription medicines and illicit drugs, which causes additional impairment and makes driving even riskier. People may think they can have one or two drinks and drive safely, not recognizing that the interaction between alcohol and other drugs has made them more impaired.1

Call 800-839-1686 Toll Free. Privacy Guaranteed. No Commitment.

Help is standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers

The Impact of Driving Drunk

Every day, people drive under the influence of alcohol more than 300,000 times, but only 3,200 a day are actually arrested.4 The average drunk driver will drive drunk more than 80 times before the first arrest.8

Alcohol-impaired driving poses a significant risk to the American public, killing more people than HIV/AIDS and certain cancers. In addition to the loss of life, victims of alcohol-related crashes can suffer many other consequences, including pain, injury, and disability, as well as the psychological, emotional, and financial impacts that can drastically reduce the quality of life.7

The consequences of drunk driving are far-reaching, with many secondhand effects. The impact extends beyond victims and offenders to their friends and families who may be grieving loss of life or coping with changes that occur as a result of the vehicle crash. Drunk driving also impacts the economy, social, healthcare, medical systems, and society at large.7 The financial burden is high, with alcohol-related crashes costing the United States more than $59 billion dollars every year.9

When you drive drunk, you put yourself and others at risk. Driving drunk not only poses the risk of physical harm to yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road but also has psychological effects. You have to live with the consequences of your actions. This may mean jail time, loss of your license, or difficulty obtaining a job due to your criminal record.1-6 Worse, if you crash your vehicle, injure, or kill someone while under the influence of alcohol, you may experience feelings of guilt, shame, regret, or even symptoms of post-traumatic stress.10

Preventing DUIs and Saving Lives

Many effective measures and strategies can help reduce the amount of alcohol-impaired drivers on the road and prevent injuries and deaths.1,2,3 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is dedicated to eliminating drunk driving through research, state safety grant programs, and public awareness campaigns.1

The NHTSA strongly supports ignition interlock devices as a technological means to keep drunk drivers off the road.1 Ignition interlocks are shown to reduce repeat DUI offenses by 70% when installed. Despite this success, only around one-fifth of those arrested for drunk driving actually have them installed.9

Some states also have sobriety checkpoints, where cars are stopped for sobriety checks in order to help catch drunk drivers.1-6 States have also been cracking down on enforcement of drinking and driving laws and it is saving lives. Drunk driving deaths have been cut in half since the 1980s when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) formed and stricter laws started being implemented and enforced.1,8 But, there is still work to do to get drunk driving deaths to zero.

Measures for Preventing Drunk Driving Deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation, effective measures for preventing injuries and fatalities linked to alcohol-impaired driving include:2,3

  • Active, high visibility enforcement of BAC .08 laws, minimum legal drinking age laws, and no tolerance policies for underage drivers
  • Requiring ignition interlock devices be installed in the vehicles of anyone charged with DUI, even first-time offenders
  • Utilizing sobriety checkpoints to help deter drinking and driving and get impaired drivers off the road
  • Increasing the tax rate on alcohol purchases
  • Prompt suspension of licenses for those arrested for driving under the influence
  • Confiscating license plate and/or registration from DUI offenders
  • Implementing community-based approaches to help control alcohol use, educate the public on risks, and prevent driving under the influence
  • Promoting public health programs that influence policy, economic, organizational, school, and community action
  • Offering community designated driver programs
  • Training programs for alcohol servers to help them recognize high levels of impairment and prevent people from driving drunk
  • Court-enforced drug and alcohol testing, substance misuse treatment, follow-up monitoring, and aftercare programs

Tips for Driving Safely

Tips for responsible driving and alcohol safety:1,2,3

  • If you consume alcohol, do not drive for any reason, even if you think you have sobered up.
  • Choose a designated sober driver before you even start drinking.
  • Call a taxi or Uber, take a bus, walk, or call a sober friend to give you a ride if needed.
  • If you are hosting a party and serving alcohol, make sure each of your drinking guests has a sober ride home.
  • If someone you know has been drinking, do not let them drive. Take their keys if possible and arrange a sober ride for them.
  • If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact local law enforcement.
  • Always wear your seatbelt. Even if you are sober, you never know when other drivers may be impaired.

Recognizing the Problem and Seeking Treatment

If you have a history of drinking and driving despite knowing the risks, you may want to consider seeking professional treatment. If you recognize the adverse consequences, but still feel that you do not have control over your alcohol use, then you may meet the clinical criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Most people with AUD would benefit from some kind of professional substance use treatment.11 For more information on treatment options available to you, call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers to speak with an addiction treatment specialist.


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Drunk Driving.
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation. (September 2019). Impaired Driving Laws, Enforcement and Prevention.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (August 2020). Impaired Driving: Get the Facts.
  4. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet: Office of Highway Safety. Kentucky Safety Facts: What is a DUI?
  5. North Carolina Department of Public Safety. (n.d.). Driving While Impaired: Information Concerning Alcohol and Driving While Impaired
  6. State of Wisconsin: Department of Transportation. (n.d.) Impaired Driving (OWI) in Wisconsin.
  7. National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (January 2018). Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Fatalities.
  8. Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (2021). Statistics.
  9. U.S. Department of Transportation. (April 2015). Alcohol Impaired Fatalities.
  10. Khodadadi-Hassankiadeh, N, Dehghan Nayeri, N., (October 2017). Predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Among Victims of Serious Motor Vehicle Accidents. International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery, 5(4): 355-364.
  11. U.S National Library of Medicine. Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) Treatment.
Find A Meeting Today Phone icon 800-681-2956 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers