In 2008, 1,650 fatalities occurred in the U.S. at the hands of an alcohol-impaired female driver. According to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), this trend is on the rise. Despite national anti-drunk driving campaigns, 10 states saw a rise in the number of female drunk drivers involved in fatal accidents, and five more saw no change at all. The numbers support the FBI's recent Crime in the United States report finding that arrests of women driving under the influence increased 28.8 percent in the years 1998-2007. While the incidence of drunk driving overall is still higher among men, these statistics suggest drunk driving is becoming a growing problem among women.

DUI Arrests Pose Added Risk

Because women comprise a significant portion of fleet drivers, this trend increase poses safety risks for fleets. Clearly, employees who drive under the influence while at work present safety hazards, including risking the lives of themselves and others. However, drivers arrested for driving under the influence while not at work pose risks as well. Once arrested, they may be driving without insurance or with a suspended license; both violations of fleet safety policies put companies at risk, particularly if the driver is involved in an accident while on the job.

NHTSA also found that of women arrested for a  DUI-involved fatal accident, 35 percent had one or more passengers in the vehicle at the time of the crash, compared to 31 percent of men. Furthermore, of that 35 percent of women, 3 percent had child passengers in their cars, as opposed to 1 percent of men.

Men Are No Exception

While DUI arrests among women are up, notably, the FBI's study indicates that four times as many men were arrested for DUI between 1998 and 2007 than women. Furthermore, in 2008, 9,175 fatalities occurred at the hands of an alcohol-impaired male driver - more than five times as many as women. This signals a need for awareness regarding both genders  - and a need for companies to pay close attention to the criminal records, driving habits, and safety practices of every driver on staff.

Joseph LaRosa, director of global fleet services for Merck & Co. Inc., says Merck employs a two-pronged safety policy regarding DUI offenses: an employee driver will be disciplined for failing to report to a supervisor any egregious acts while driving a company vehicle within 24 hours,  and an employee can also be disciplined for the DUI act itself.

"Regardless of the proper notification, this would not preclude a driver from being immediately terminated because of the act," says LaRosa. "If the act results in loss of license, immediate termination is imminent due to lack of ability to perform their job."

Merck applies this policy to all employee drivers, regardless of gender or accident risk level.

On a Positive Note

The good news is that while DUI arrests are on the rise for women, they are declining among men. According to FBI statistics, DUI arrests for men are down 7.5 percent. And, according to the NHTSA study, the United States saw an overall 9-percent decline in fatal drunk driving accidents. Furthermore, in July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced overall traffic fatalities reported in 2008 reached a record low since 1961.