Summertime means more people enjoying the great outdoors and exploring new places. However, across the United States, summer is also a time when it’s extremely dangerous to be on the road, either as a driver or as a passenger.
A number of factors contribute to high drunk driving rates in the summer months. Many of the same things that make summer the most popular time of year are the same things that increase impaired driving rates—outdoor events, longer days, and more free time can all lead people to get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.
Drunk Driving Statistics
Statistics indicate that impaired driving is a massive problem in the United States, and efforts to quell it have not been widely successful. Per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 11,000 people died from drunk driving crashes. This averages out to one death every 48 minutes. Alcohol was a contributing factor in 29 percent of driving fatalities in 2017.
The same report shows that nearly 10 percent of fatal drunk driving crashes take place in July. Fatality rates creep up steadily in spring, peak in July, and gradually decrease throughout fall and winter. According to the CDC, alcohol-related crashes lead to over $44 billion in damages and expenses every year.
Experts note that the Fourth of July is a major reason that July is such a dangerous month for drunk driving accidents. Many extend the holiday and turn it into a long weekend, and without proper planning, many find themselves without a safe way to get home after a night of drinking. In 2017, 40 percent of all fatal crashes occurring during the Fourth of July week involved alcohol.
Penalties for Driving Under the Influence
Federal, state, and local governments have tried a wide range of tactics to stem the tide of drunk driving accidents. Many of these efforts have been punitive in nature. By implementing higher and higher fines for drunk driving arrests, legislators hope to dissuade people from driving while impaired. Additionally, many states have implemented mandatory minimum sentences for drunk driving offenders. While many municipalities do not have mandatory minimum sentences for first-time offenders, several have strict requirements for second, third, and additional offenses. As penalties for impaired driving have become more severe and the social stigma of impaired driving has grown, it’s become more difficult for drivers to defend themselves after an arrest.
Other campaigns have attempted to tackle the drunk driving issue on a societal level. Some campaigns strive to make events less alcohol-centered, while others aim to attach a greater stigma to drunk driving. Several organizations highlight fatalities and serious injuries caused by impaired drivers, hoping to show people the harm they could potentially cause when they get behind the wheel after drinking.
Across all of these programs and campaigns, results have been mixed.
Other Solutions to the Drunk Driving Problem
A growing number of programs try to provide solutions for drivers, rather than enforcing punitive measures. A rapid increase in ridesharing programs across the nation has provided affordable alternatives to many people after a night out. The NHTSA reports that over half of drunk driving crashes occur in urban areas, where consumers have many rideshare options. Some bars and restaurants offer free overnight parking for guests who cannot safely drive, allowing people to realize when they’ve had enough without worrying about getting their vehicle towed. Some cities offer a free shuttle service or free bus rides to people on nights when drunk driving is a common issue—this includes holidays like the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve. Legislators in some states and cities have dedicated substantial funding to public transportation, recognizing that people may be less likely to drive while impaired if there is a safe and affordable way to get home instead.