The Insurance Institute for Safety recently undertook a study to find the answers to one of the great mysteries of traffic safety – the high rates of drunk driving fatalities vis-à-vis lower drunk driving rates. The percentage of American motorists driving under the influence of alcohol has dipped significantly over the past few years. However, the proportion of drivers who are involved in alcohol-related accident fatalities remains more or less stable

The researchers compared the results of roadside breath test surveys from across the country conducted on weekends in 48 states in 1986, 1996 and 2007. They also analyzed alcohol-related fatality data taken from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The researchers found that the percentage of alcohol-impaired motorists actually continue to decline in each roadside survey. However, the proportion of drivers who were killed in alcohol-related car accidents has remained the same since 1994.  While the number of people driving under the influence is down, the number of people killed in alcohol-related car accidents remains more or less the same. Why is there no change in the numbers of motorists dying in drunk driving accidents, while the incidence of intoxicated driving is down?

The researchers believe that it could have something to do with a number of factors. For example, they found in their analysis that motorists in fatal accidents who were driving under the influence of alcohol, were much more likely to be driving an older vehicle. They were also much less likely to be wearing a seatbelt at the time, and much more likely to be speeding, have prior traffic violations or license suspensions on their record, or have a history of crashes.

Seatbelt usage rates are high among drunk drivers, and this could be one of the major reasons why fatality rates have remained the same in spite of declines in DUI rates.

Doug Horn is a Missouri accident lawyer  dedicated to the representation of victims of car accidents across Missouri.