Did you know that drunk drivers are involved in 29% of all fatal accidents in the U.S.? It’s true. Even more surprising, that percentage is at its lowest point since 1982, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) started reporting data on alcohol-involved fatalities.
Drunk driving is incredibly destructive and entirely too common. According to NHTSA, an alcohol-involved fatality occurs about once every 50 minutes, or 29 times a day in the United States.
Drivers generally do know that drinking and driving is dangerous. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 95% of drivers said they knew driving after drinking enough to be over the legal limit was either “very” or “extremely” dangerous. Yet about 11% of the same drivers admitted they had driven drunk in the previous month.
Moreover, that doesn’t even include people who drive under the influence of drugs. Both legal and illegal drugs can impair driving, but many drivers ingest two or more drugs at a time, or alcohol and another drug. In the U.S. in 2016, 50.5% of drug-positive drivers in fatal accidents had two or more drugs in their systems. 40.7% had at least one drug and alcohol in their system.
People who do this repeatedly over time are considered very high risk for a drunk-driving accident. The Governors Highway Safety Association and other advocacy groups refer to these drivers as “high-risk impaired drivers.”
Who gets considered high risk?
Anyone who drives while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol is a danger on the roads, but some drivers are even more of a hazard. These extra-risk drivers are defined as high-risk because they:
- Are likely to drive with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15% or greater
- Are likely to be polysubstance users
- Have been arrested for DUI more than once
- Lack the self-control or restraint to resist impaired driving
Many of these drivers suffer from both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. This can make it extremely difficult to address the behavior, especially using traditional prosecution. They are more likely than the average DUI defendant to reoffend, and they frequently fail to comply with their DUI sentences.
How many high-risk impaired drivers are out there?
It is difficult to say, but the statistics are compelling that there are probably a lot. For example, in 2018, 66% of drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes had a blood alcohol level above 0.15%. That puts these drivers in the high-risk category because of their high blood alcohol concentrations.
When Colorado legalized marijuana, Denver experienced a 300% increase in polysubstance-impaired driving cases. Now that marijuana is legal for at least some purposes in the majority of states, we are likely to see many drivers who are impaired by cannabis. Many will have both cannabis and alcohol in their systems, which puts them in the high-risk impaired driver category.
What can be done?
If you have been injured by an impaired driver who may fit the high-risk category, don’t rely on prosecution alone to protect others. The person may be unwilling or unable to stop driving impaired on their own. One possible way to influence the behavior is by holding the driver responsible for their actions in a lawsuit.
Talk to an experienced attorney about your situation. You may have a way to hold the impaired driver accountable.