Drunk Driving: How Dangerous is it?

Drunk Driving: How Dangerous is it?

We all know that drunk driving is dangerous, and the penalties are steep, but just how dangerous is it? How likely are you to be involved in a drunk driving accident? Is it ever safe to get behind the wheel after drinking alcohol? Here’s what you need to know about the accident risks and penalties of drunk driving.

The Statistics

In 2015, Wisconsin had 24,000 convictions for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) offenses. That same year, there were 190 deaths and 2,900 injuries caused by drunk driving accidents. This is a 28% decrease in offenses since 2004 and a 50% decline in deaths since 2003.

Nationwide, alcohol is involved in 31% of fatal car accidents, the third highest in the world behind Canada (34%) and South Africa (58%.) On average, 30 people die each day from drunk driving accidents in America or about 10,000 per year. That’s a 33% decrease over the past three decades. In 2010, these accidents accounted for $44 billion in damages.

How Does Alcohol Increase Accident Risk?

Feelings of drunkenness do not correlate with driving performance: even small amounts of alcohol decrease reaction time. At a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.02%, the drinker will start having problems multitasking and making judgment calls. It takes just one or two drinks to reach that level. At 0.05%, tracking moving objects is difficult and coordination is reduced, and at 0.08%, concentration and speed control is significantly reduced.

The relative risk of being in a crash is 1.38 times higher at a BAC of 0.05% than sober. At 0.08%, the legal limit across the U.S, the risk is 2.7 times higher, and at 0.10%, the chance of a crash is 5 times higher than a sober driver.

When am I at Risk?

Here’s what the latest NHTSA study found:

– The most dangerous months for drunk driving accidents are July, August, and September.
– 90% of accidents happen in clear weather.
– 70% of accidents occur at night. There are three times as many drivers with a BAC over 0.08% at night than there are during daylight hours.
– 72% of accidents occur on non-interstate highways and major streets
– 8% of drivers on the road are intoxicated in the daytime on weekdays, while over one third are intoxicated on weekend nights
– The percentage of intoxicated drivers peaks at midnight to 3 am, but the highest number of accidents is between 3-6 pm due to traffic.

According to the IIHS, the most dangerous day for drunk driving is the 4th of July, while alcohol-related fatalities increase 34% between Christmas and New Years. Surprisingly, New Years is only the 7th most deadly day for accidents.

Legal Penalties

In Wisconsin, OWI offenses mostly target drunk driving, but they can include impairment caused by illegal drugs and prescription medicines.

1st offense: $150-$300 fine, 6-9 month driver’s license suspension
2nd offense: 5 days to 6 months of jail time or up to 30 days of community service, $350 to $1,100 fine, 12-18 month license suspension
3rd offense: 45 days to 1 year of jail time, $600 to $2,000 in fines. Minimum 14 days of jail even with probation, two to three-year driver’s license suspension

All fines and jail time are doubled if a passenger under 16 years old was involved in the incident. If the driver has a BAC between 0.17 and 0.199%, fines are doubled. Fines are tripled with a BAC of 0.20% to 0.249% and quadrupled for a BAC over 0.25%.

Drivers under 21 with a BAC between 0 and 0.08% get a three-month license suspension and a $200 fine.

An ignition interlock is mandatory for an offense with a BAC over 0.15% or a second OWI offense. This device locks the ignition until the driver passes a breathalyzer test.

The driver’s vehicle may be confiscated after the third offense, or if the driver refuses a breathalyzer test.

Anyone convicted of an OWI offense must undergo a substance abuse evaluation. From there, alcoholics may be put into a drug rehab program.

Reducing Your Risk

You can’t avoid driving alongside drunk drivers altogether, but you can take steps to keep yourself off the road if you’ve had too much to drink. If you drink at all, don’t drive. Have a designated driver on hand, or plan on taking a cab or Uber back home.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin’s Saferide program provides free cab rides for intoxicated drivers. Funded by drunk driving convictions, this program provided 91,000 rides last year. If you need a ride home, talk to the bartender.

Had an Accident? We Can Help.

If you’re in the Lake Country area and need collision repair, take your car to Merton Auto Body. We’ve served Sussex, Pewaukee, Hartland, Oconomowoc, and Delafield for over 70 years. Our staff has the latest in tools and training to handle repairs on new and old vehicles, and our auto body estimation center can get work approved by your insurance quickly.


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