In May, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that 2019 saw the lowest number of highway fatalities in the state of Pennsylvania since crash data recording began in 1928. Among the newly released data, PennDOT noted that there were 42 fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2019 than 2015, showing a long-term downward trend. While this is certainly good news, drinking and driving remains a top safety concern. In fact, what this preliminary 2019 data does not show is the high fatality rate when it comes to alcohol-involved crashes vs. other, non-alcohol related collisions.
According to the annual Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics report for 2018 (the latest year for which complete crash data is currently available), alcohol-related crashes accounted for only about 8% of all motor vehicle accidents in 2018, yet they accounted for 28% of all crash-related fatalities. Although the total number of alcohol-related crashes decreased (from 10,346 to 9,811) in 2018 compared to 2017, the total number of alcohol-related crash fatalities actually increased (from 293 to 331) during that same time period.
Additionally, 3.1% of all alcohol-related crashes in 2018 resulted in fatalities, as opposed to 0.7% of non-alcohol related crashes. Put simply, alcohol-related crashes were nearly 5% more likely to result in death than crashes in which alcohol was not a factor. While the risk of being involved in an alcohol-related crash has decreased, the risk of dying in an accident with a drunk driver has remained extremely high.
What Makes Drinking & Driving So Deadly?
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows people’s reaction times and impairs their ability to quickly respond to changing situations. Needless to say, this is extremely dangerous when a person is operating a motor vehicle traveling at any speed.
According to the CDC, alcohol consumption has the following effects:
- Slows reaction time
- Decreases coordination
- Impairs vision
- Reduces concentration
- Inhibits judgment
All of these factors—reaction time, coordination, vision, concentration, and judgment—are critical while driving. When a person drives under the influence, all of these factors fall by the wayside, often resulting in devastating consequences.
A drunk driver is more likely to drive through red traffic lights and stop signs, swerve in and out of lanes, fall asleep or pass out at the wheel, hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, make sudden and erratic movements, and make poor decisions that result in a collision. These collisions are often deadly due to the fact that drunk drivers often do not react in time, meaning collisions typically occur at higher speeds.
The faster a vehicle is traveling, the more destruction it causes when it collides with another object, including another vehicle also traveling at a considerable rate of speed. Additionally, drunk driving accidents often involve particularly dangerous types of accidents, including head-on collisions and side-impact (or “T-bone”) crashes.
Who Is Most at Risk?
PennDOT’s 2018 Crash Facts and Statistics reports that there is increasing concern regarding the problem of underage drinking and driving. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or consume alcohol; underage drivers may not operate a vehicle with any detectable trace of alcohol in their systems. This is much stricter than the law for those aged 21 and older, who are not allowed to operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher. Despite the law, however, 29% of all driver fatalities involving drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 in 2018 were drivers who had been drinking. This statistic marks an 18% increase from the previous year.
In addition to underage drinking and driving, PennDOT noted that young driver fatalities involving drivers who were of legal drinking age were also of concern. In 2018, among drivers aged 21 to 25, 43% of driver fatalities involved an impaired driver. The report also notes that this age group saw the highest year-to-year increase (at 31%) in drunk driving deaths in 2018.
Additional risk factors for alcohol-related crashes and fatalities, according to the 2018 data, include:
- Being Male: 73% of impaired drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes were male
- Being in the Vehicle with an Impaired Driver: 90% of alcohol-related fatalities involving occupants of vehicles were either the drunk driver or a passenger in the vehicle being driven by an impaired driver (75% were the impaired driver)
- Driving at Night: 67% of all alcohol-related collisions occurred during nighttime hours, with most crashes occurring between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. (29.3%) and the hours of 12 a.m. and 3:59 a.m. (28.7%)
- Driving on Weekends: 48% of fatal alcohol-related crashes occurred on Saturdays and Sundays (27.8% and 20.5%, respectively)
Additionally, driving on holidays and holiday weekends also carries an increased risk of being involved in an alcohol-related crash.
What to Do If You Were Injured by a Drunk Driver
It’s important to stay safe and never get behind the wheel of a car or motor vehicle after consuming alcohol. If you are hit by a drunk driver, you can file a civil claim against the at-fault person/party and seek compensation for your damages, including medical bills, lost wages, disability, pain and suffering, and more. We encourage you to reach out to our Pennsylvania drunk driving accident attorneys today for a free and confidential consultation.
Contact us now to learn how we can help.