How Drunk Driving Could Affect the Economy

Drunk driving accident decrease may have boosted US economy

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Sober driving saves lives, and it may also save money — a lot of money.

A dramatic fall in impaired driving car crashes since the mid-1980s may have boosted the US economy by $20 billion in 2010 and increased national income and employment, a recent study found.

"Preventing traffic crashes reduces crash costs paid by employers and employees," wrote Eduard Zaloshnja, PhD, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Silver Spring, MD, and colleagues. "The related savings filter through the economy, impacting its performance."

Using data from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Dr. Zaloshnja and team estimated economic gains and losses caused by the 50 percent drop in drunk driving accidents since 1984-1986. The authors looked at medical, productivity, property damage, emergency response and other costs.

"A range of effective interventions have halved the impaired driving toll in the USA over the past 30 years," Dr. Zaloshnja and team wrote. "The cost-effectiveness of those efforts is well-documented. Laws and their enforcement have played a critical role in reducing the toll."

This drop in alcohol-fueled accidents appears to have increased economic output by an estimated $20 billion and might have created more than 200,000 jobs in 2010, this study found. US income grew by $6.5 billion in 2010, the authors said.

Fewer accidents might have also boosted the gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all finished goods and services produced in the US, which grew by $10 billion, Dr. Zaloshnja and team found. Those gains included wages, tax revenues and profits.

A little over 10 percent of US car accidents in 2010 involved alcohol, according to this study. Impaired driving accidents that year cost $49 billion, excluding the impact on household work and quality of life.

Preventing those accidents would likely double these economic gains, Dr. Zaloshnja and team said.

Almost 30 people in the US die in car accidents involving a drunk driver every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The yearly cost of alcohol-related crashes amounts to more than $59 billion, according to the agency.

Alcohol-impaired drivers are those whose blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher.

"Alcohol-involved crashes drag down the US economy," Dr. Zaloshnja and colleagues wrote. "On average, each of the 25.5 billion miles Americans drove impaired in 2010 reduced economic output by $0.80. Those losses are preventable."

Ignition interlocks, now available in more than 10 US states, and better car safety features may further curb crashes involving alcohol, Dr. Zaloshnja and team said. Ignition interlocks measure alcohol on the driver's breath. They keep the car from starting if the driver has a BAC above a certain level — usually 0.02 percent. Interlocks are installed for drivers with DUI convictions or voluntarily by parents of teen drivers.

This study was published April 29 in the journal Injury Prevention.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded this research. Dr. Zaloshnja and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 29, 2015
Last Updated:
May 11, 2015