Study: Halving of Drunk Driving Crashes Has Boosted Economy by Billions

A major reduction in alcohol-fueled car accidents over the past several decades has had positive effects for the economy as well as for public safety, according to a new study.

In 2010, alcohol was a factor in 12% of car accidents, only half what that figure was in 1984-86.

In order to estimate the impact of this reduction on the U.S. economy, researchers calculated economic gains resulting from the fall of drunk-driving crashes since the mid-1980s, as well as direct monetary impacts on employers and consumers. That included categories such as medical costs, property damage, emergency response services, crash investigation, legal services and productivity changes.

The report estimates that each of the 25.5 billion miles Americans collectively drove while under the influence in 2010 reduced national economic output by 80 cents, reduced the Gross Domestic Product by 40 cents and cut 12 jobs.

But the drop from the mid-80s increased national economic output by around $20 billion, increased national income by around $6.5 billion, raised the GDP by $10 billion and added around 215,000 jobs to the economy.

Of course, not all accidents are avoidable, and more than three million people are injured in car accidents across the country each year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But further reductions in drunk-driving rates — ideally to zero — would produce even greater gains, the researchers say.

A combination of legislation and better safety features implemented over the past three decades have helped to ameliorate the toll alcohol-related accidents take. The study recommends that ignition interlocks (devices which require the driver to blow into a breathalyzer before the car will start) be made mandatory for all drivers with previous DUI convictions, a measure that is currently in place in 10 states. It also suggests that parents voluntarily install such devices in cars driven by teens.

“Alcohol-involved crashes drag down the U.S. economy,” the researchers conclude, but “those losses are preventable.”

The full study has been published in the journal Injury Prevention.

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