In a recent survey, some 78% of U.S. drivers agreed alcohol-impaired driving was a serious problem, yet more U.S. drivers reported often driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in 2021 than in 2020.
Specifically, the percentage of respondents who reported driving when they thought they were over the legal limit in the last 12 months increased significantly from 16.6% in 2020 to 22.5% in 2021. This represents a 35.5% increase from 2020.
The data comes from an annual national opinion poll on alcohol-impaired driving conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, USA Inc.
The survey also explored the reasons why people chose to drive despite the fact that they thought they were over the legal limit.
The most common response was they thought they were okay to drive, with 40.5% citing this rationale, up from 31.7% in 2020. An additional 12.4% reported they thought they could drive carefully regardless, also up from 8.6% in 2020. In addition, 10.4% believed they would not be caught compared to 9.1% in 2020, and 7.4% thought there was no alternative to driving compared to 11.9% in 2020.
A key takeaway from the poll: Among all U.S. drivers who drove when they thought they were over the legal limit (22.5%), two-fifths (40.5%) continue to believe they were OK to drive. This suggests that this group simply does not understand the impairing effects of alcohol on driving or the risk they pose to themselves and other road users.
The poll breaks down demographics as well, looking at what groups were more likely to admit to driving when they believed they were already over the legal alcohol limit.
Aggregated data from 2017-2021 polls found males were a staggering 143% more likely than females to report driving while they thought they were over the legal limit.
The younger demographic was also much more likely to engage in the behavior, with 47.7% of respondents aged 21 to 29 years and 45.2% of those aged 30 to 39 reporting this risky behavior. Only 12.2% of those aged 50 to 59 and 9.2% of those over age 60 admitted to driving when over the legal limit.
Finally, the 2021 poll explored the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on risky driving behaviors.
Overall, most drivers say they did not change their behavior, whereas a sizeable proportion of drivers indicated they took fewer risks on the road during the pandemic.
However, a notable proportion of U.S. drivers indicated they were more likely to engage in risky driving behaviors during the pandemic, as compared to before. Specifically, 10.5% of drivers indicated they were more likely to drive within two hours of consuming alcohol, and nearly 12% admitted to excessively speeding during the pandemic.