Government study: 1 in 12 drivers admit driving drunk

One in 12 drivers admitted driving drunk at least once over the course of a year, a government survey released last week found.

One in five, or 20% of the nearly 7,000 people surveyed, said they had driven in the past year within two hours of drinking an alcoholic beverage. Yet an overwhelming majority – four out of five people – consider drinking and driving a major threat to their safety, according to the survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

“We have to do more as a country to close the gap between believing that drunk driving is a threat and actively doing something about it,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said to USA Today. “Impaired driving remains still a very serious problem,” he said.

As Labor Day approaches and summer travel peaks, police nationwide will launch a two-week blitz of DUI checkpoints and drunken-driving patrols, Strickland said.

The federal government is spending $13 million in television and radio ads, mostly at sporting events, to get the message out, Strickland said. “If you drive drunk, you will be arrested,” he said.

About a third of all fatal vehicle crashes in the USA involve a drunken driver, Department of Transportation statistics have shown.

“We would cut fatalities by half if we had 100% seat-belt use and eliminated drunk driving,” said Vernon Betkey, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The NHTSA survey found that 8% of all drivers, an estimated 17.2 million Americans, have driven even though they thought their blood-alcohol level exceeded the legal limit of .08%.

“It’s going up slightly, which is the wrong trend,” Strickland said.

About 8% of people rode in a car driven by someone they thought was too drunk to drive. Among them, men 21 to 24 years old were most likely to ride in a car with a drunken driver. One in four young men said they rode with a drunken driver in the past year.

The survey also asked drivers who said they drove within two hours of drinking alcohol how many drinks they could have before being too drunk to drive. Forty percent said they could drive after three drinks, and 11% said they could drink five drinks, the survey found.

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