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Report: 30 Million Americans Drive Drunk Each Year

December 9, 2010

An average of 30 million Americans each year get behind the wheel and drive while drunk, according to a new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

According to SAMHSA, 13.2 percent of all people over the age of 16 drove under the influence of alcohol during the past year, and another 4.3 percent (roughly 10 million people) admitted to driving while impaired by illicit drugs.

On the plus side, impaired driving appears to be on the decline. SAMHSA reported that the surveys conducted from 2002 to 2005 had an average annual drunk driving rate of 14.6, compared to just 13.2 percent for those from 2006 to 2009. Likewise, the yearly percentage of drugged drivers fell by one-half percent (4.8 to 4.3) across the two time spans.

“Levels of self-reported drunk and drugged driving differed dramatically among age groups,” the organization reported in a December 9 press release. “Younger drivers aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of drunk driving than those aged 26 or older (19.5 percent versus 11.8 percent).  Similarly people aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of driving under the influence of illicit drugs than those aged 26 or older (11.4 percent versus 2.8 percent).”

The highest drunk driving rates were recorded in the states of Wisconsin (23.7 percent) and North Dakota (22.4 percent), while Rhode Island (7.8 percent) and Vermont (6.6 percent) were home to the highest number of drugged drivers. Utah (7.4 percent) and Mississippi (8.7 percent) had the lowest number of drunk drivers, while fewer drugged drivers were found in Iowa (2.9 percent) and New Jersey (3.2 percent).

“Thousands of people die each year as a result of drunk and drugged driving, and the lives of thousands of family members and friends left behind are forever scarred,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a statement. “Some progress has been made in reducing the levels of drunk and drugged driving through education, enhanced law enforcement and public outreach efforts. However, the nation must continue to work to prevent this menace and confront these dangerous drivers in an aggressive way.”

“While we have understood for some time the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, much less is known or discussed about drivers under the influence of other drugs,” added Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “This new data adds to other emerging research revealing that there is an alarmingly high percentage of Americans on our roadways with drugs in their system.”

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