TIRF USA releases Road Safety Monitor: Alcohol-Impaired Driving & Risky Driving During COVID-19 in the United States, 2020

Washington, DC, December 28, 2020 — The Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc. (TIRF USA), in partnership with TIRF in Canada and with sponsorship from the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, released the sixth annual Road Safety Monitor (RSM) on alcohol-impaired driving. The survey takes the pulse of the nation regarding the alcohol-impaired driving issue by means of an online survey of a random, representative sample of U.S. drivers aged 21 years or older. A total of 1,501 drivers in the U.S. completed the poll in September 2020. This fact sheet summarizes key findings regarding the prevalence of alcohol-impaired driving, reasons for engaging in this behavior and characteristics of these drivers. Survey results are compared to data from previous years. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this RSM also describes the effects of the pandemic on risky driving behaviors.

The overall fatality rate has decreased consistently for the past three years from a high in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A 5.3% decrease was observed from 10,710 in 2018 to 10,142 in 2019, meaning hundreds of lives were saved during this period. The percent of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities of all driving fatalities in 2019 represents the lowest percentage since the beginning of data collection on alcohol in 1982.

Carl Wicklund, TIRF USA senior research advisor is encouraged with this trend, noting, “The percentage of respondents reporting driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months decreased significantly from 20% in 2019 to 16.6% in 2020.” This reduction may indicate a greater awareness of the impairing effects of alcohol.

Results of this RSM also show concern about alcohol-impaired driving remained high and was equal to concern about the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 3 in 5 (60%) Americans reported they were very or extremely concerned about the pandemic. Comparatively, 60% of U.S. drivers reported they were very or extremely concerned about alcohol-impaired driving. In addition, 81% of U.S. drivers consider alcohol-impaired driving a serious problem, a significant increase from 78% in 2019.

“Despite this high level of concern about alcohol-impaired driving, many still reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit and doing so often,” cautions Heather Woods-Fry, Research Scientist of TIRF Canada and lead author of the study. “The primary reason for drivers reporting this behavior was they believed they were okay to drive. This indicates continued education efforts are essential to maintain awareness about the impairing effects of alcohol.” The poll also revealed 11.9% of drivers thought there was no alternative to driving compared to 9.6% in 2019.

Regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on driver behavior, while most drivers didn’t change their behavior or were less likely to take risks during the pandemic, a small proportion of drivers indicated they were more likely to engage in risky behavior. Results show:

  • 6% were more likely to drive after drinking during the pandemic
  • 6% were also more likely to speed during the pandemic
  • 1% were less likely to wear their seatbelt during the pandemic

Survey results also show the proportion of respondents that indicated they had been a designated driver, used a designated driver, used a taxi or public transportation or ridesharing decreased from 82.3% in 2019 to 75.7% in 2020.

The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on road safety is presently unknown but it may require adjusting educational and law enforcement strategies to address alcohol-impaired driving according to these survey results.

“The decrease in the percentage of drivers stating they relied on safe rides as an alternative strategy to avoid alcohol-impaired driving is concerning. As an increasing amount of resources are being focused on the health of Americans during the pandemic, targeted education and enforcement efforts to reduce and prevent impaired driving are essential to lessen the burden of the issue, especially in light of the current road safety climate,” concludes Woods-Fry.

Download fact sheet: Road Safety Monitor: Alcohol-Impaired Driving & COVID-19 in the United States, 2020

About the poll
These results are based on the 2020 TIRF USA RSM, an annual public opinion survey developed and conducted by TIRF USA, in partnership with TIRF in Canada. A total of 1,501 drivers in the U.S. completed the poll in September 2020 (results can be considered accurate within plus or minus 2.5%, 19 times out of 20). The data were stratified and weighted by sex, age, and region. The majority of the questions were answered using a scale from one to six where six indicated high agreement, concern, or support and one indicated low agreement, concern, or support, as well as numerous yes/no questions. All respondents completed the survey online.

About TIRF USA
The mission of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc. (TIRF USA) is to develop and share the knowledge that saves – preventing injuries and loss of life on American roads, reducing related social, health and insurance costs, and safeguarding productivity. TIRF USA is an independent road safety research institute that obtained 501(c)3 non-profit status in the U.S. in 2014 and is affiliated through an exchange of services agreement with TIRF in Canada, established in 1964. Visit us online at www.tirf.us or twitter.com/tirfusainc

About the Anheuser-Busch Foundation
Established in 1975, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation focuses on supporting organizations that help individuals and communities thrive. The Foundation contributes to countless community organizations every year in support of disaster preparedness and relief, economic development, education, environmental sustainability, military personnel and responsible drinking. Anheuser-Busch and its foundation are united by an unwavering commitment to supporting the communities that they call home and over the last 30 years, Anheuser-Busch and the Anheuser-Busch Foundation have donated more than $600 million to charitable organizations across the country. For more information, visit www.anheuser-busch.com.

For more information, please contact:

Karen Bowman
Director, Marketing & Communications
Traffic Injury Research Foundation
karenb@tirf.ca


Traffic Injury Research Foundation USA, Inc.
tirf@tirf.us
Corporate Office | T: 202-507-6334 |