Gallup Poll: Drinking and Driving


National Survey of Drinking and Driving
Attitudes and Behaviors: 1999

Submitted to:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
400 7th Street, SW
Room #6240
Washington, D.C. 20590
Draft #2 – December 2000

Submitted by:

901 F Street
N.W. Washington DC, 20004

Complete Survey (PDF

Executive Summary


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) mission
is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce traffic-related health
care and other economic costs. The goal is to meet the U.S. Secretary of
Transportation’s objective of reducing alcoholrelated
fatalities to 11,000 by the year 2005. Slight changes in the survey
design and methodology in 1999 limit direct comparisons in some areas to
the data collected in the previous administrations.

In order to plan and evaluate programs intended to reduce
alcohol-impaired driving, NHTSA needs to periodically update its
knowledge and understanding of the public’s attitudes
and behaviors with respect to drinking and driving. NHTSA began measuring
the driving age public’s attitudes and behaviors
regarding drinking and driving in 1991.

This study represents the fifth of these biennial surveys designed to
track the effectiveness of current programs and to identify areas in need
of attention.Telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally
representative sample of 5,733 persons of driving age (age 16 or older)
in the United States between October 12 and December 12, 1999. Findings
from the current survey are presented first. Then, comparisons with prior
surveys are made.

Slight changes in the survey design and methodology in 1999 limit the
number of direct comparisons that can be made to the previous NHTSA
drinking and driving administrations.

Key Findings

Drinking and Driving Behavior

About 21% of the driving age public have driven a motor vehicle within
two hours of consuming alcoholic beverages in the past year. These
persons are referred to as
“drinker-drivers†throughout this

Males are more than twice as likely to have driven within two hours of
drinking as are females (31% compared to 13%).

Adults age 21 to 45 are the most likely to be drinker-drivers, with
37% of males and 18% of females driving within two hours of alcohol

On average, drinker-drivers consume 2.7 drinks prior to driving.
Drinker-drivers under age 21 consume an average of 6.3 drinks prior to

Drinker-drivers made between an estimated 840 million and 1.1 billion
driving trips within two hours of consuming alcohol in the previous year.
Those age 21 to 29 make a disproportionately high number of
drinking-driving trips (21% of trips while they are 16% of the driving
age population).

Drinker-drivers operate a motor vehicle with an average blood alcohol
concentration (BAC) of .03, which is below the legal limit for those age
21 or older; however, about 5% of drinker-drivers are estimated to have a
BAC of .08 or higher. While those age16-20 make only about 1% of all
drinking-driving trips, they do so at a BAC level three times that of
legal age drinkers. Which is about .10 BAC.

About one in ten (11%) persons age 16 or older has ridden with a
driver they thought might have consumed too much alcohol to drive safely
in the past year. This number rises to about two in ten among those age
21 to 29, and to one in four among those age 16 to 20 (23%). Of those who
rode with unsafe persons, four in ten riders decided that their drivers
were unsafe before they were riding in the vehicle, but still rode with

Most Important Problem

Attitudes About Drinking and Driving

The driving age public sees drinking and driving as a serious problem
that needs to be dealt with. Virtually all (97%) see drinking and driving
by others as a threat to their own personal safety and that of their
family, and nearly three-quarter (73%) feel reducing drinking and driving
is extremely important in terms of where tax dollars should be spent.

Large proportions of those age 16 and older are supportive of
“zero toleranceâ€1 for drinking and
driving. Nearly seven in ten (68%) agree that people should not be
allowed to drive if they have had any alcohol at all. Non drinker-drivers
(76%) are more supportive of this belief than are drinker-drivers

A majority (63%) of persons of driving age believes that they,
themselves, should not drive after consuming more than two alcoholic
beverages. In contrast, male drinkerdrivers under age 30 feel that they
can safely drive after consuming about four drinks within two hours. An
average 170-pound male would still be below the legal limit2 (either .08
or .10) after four drinks.

Prevention and Intervention of Drinking and

Drove After Drinking

Half of drivers 16 or older who consume alcoholic beverages, report at
least one occasion where they refrained from driving when they thought
they may have been impaired. Most of these persons rode with another
driver instead.

Virtually all (98%) of those 16 and older feel that they should
prevent someone they know from driving if they are impaired. Thirty-two
percent (32%) of persons of driving age have been with a friend who may
have had too much to drink to drive safely. Most of these (82%) tried to
stop the friend from driving. Intervention was successful about 80% of
the time.

Three in ten (31%) of those 16 or older have ridden with a designated
driver in the past year, with those under age 30 most likely to have done
so. Four in ten drivers have acted as a designated driver in the past
year. Designated drivers were reported to have consumed less than
one-half of one alcoholic drink, on average, prior to driving. 1 In this
report ‘zero tolerance’ refers to
no driving after drinking by anyone, of any age. All states have
‘zero tolerance’ laws which refer
specifically to drivers under 21. 2 As of November 2000, 19 states, D.C.
and Puerto Rico have .08 per se laws. 30 states have .10 per se laws.


Profile of Problem Drinkers

About 1% of the driving age public report being arrested for impaired
driving in the past 2 years. Males under age 30 were most likely to have
been arrested. This is consistent with the higher average calculated BAC
levels of young drinker-drivers.

Six of ten (62%) believe that a conviction is very likely or certain
if they were arrested for a drinking-driving violation, while one in
seven (15%) feel that a conviction would be unlikely.

The driving age public generally feels that an impaired driver is more
likely to have a crash than to be stopped by police. On average, the
public feels that about 43% will get in a crash while the police will
stop about 33%.

About 64% feel that current drinking and driving laws and penalties
are effective at reducing drinking and driving. Yet, three of four (73%)
persons age 16 or older feel that drinking driving penalties should be
more severe.

One in three (34%) persons of driving age have seen a sobriety
checkpoint in the past year. About 19% have been through such a
checkpoint themselves. A majority (64%) feel that sobriety checkpoints
should be used more frequently.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Levels

How Many Beers

Four of five (80%) persons of driving age have heard of blood alcohol
concentration (BAC) levels, but fewer than three in ten (27%) can
correctly identify the legal BAC limit for their state.

More than two-thirds (68%) of driving age residents who have heard of
BAC levels support the use of a .08 BAC legal limit in their state. More
than eight of ten (86%) of those who currently reside in .08 states
believe that the limit should remain at .08 or be made stricter, while
49% of those in .10 states feel their state should lower the limit to
.08. Six in ten feel that all or most drivers would be dangerous at the
BAC limit in their state.

Support for .08 is strongest among those who do not drink and drive,
with 70% feeling the limit should be .08 or stricter (lower). While
support is not as strong among those who drink and drive, 36% of this
group also support a BAC limit .08 or stricter.

Crash Experience

Nearly two in ten (17%) persons of driving age were involved in a
motor vehicle crash as a driver in the past two years. Alcohol was
involved in about 2% of reported crashes.

Drivers under age 21 were more likely to be involved in a crash both
as a driver and a passenger than were other drivers.

Perceived Effectiveness of Strategies to Reduce Drunk

Should Laws Be More Severe

The general driving age population feel that the following would be
the most effective strategies to reduce impaired driving providing
alternative means of transportation (to self driving) for impaired
drivers (63% very effective making bars and liquor stores more legally
responsible for selling to minors/drunk patrons 55%); and increasing law
enforcement efforts to arrest drunk drivers (53%). Making alcohol harder
to buy (by liming sales outlets), increasing the cost through increased
taxes and limiting alcohol advertising are felt to be much less effective

Should Laws Be Less Severe

Complete Survey (PDF

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