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Drunk Driving


bulletDrunk driving is not an accident; it is a violent crime.
bulletIn 1991, more than 19,900 people were killed and 318,000 injured in the United States in alcohol-related traffic crashes. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1992)
bulletSince Mothers Against Drunk Driving's (MADD) inception in 1980, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities has decreased by nearly 29 percent--saving more than 48,000 lives.
bulletUnlike all other forms of violent crime in the United States, drunk driving fatalities are on the decline, thanks in part to enhanced public awareness of the problem and an increased commitment to put an end to this very preventable tragedy. (National Institute of Justice, 1991.)


The term "drunk driving," although widely used, is a bit misleading. Most states require a blood alcohol content level (BAC) of .10 before a driver is considered legally intoxicated. Some states require a BAC of .08, although that is still well above the American Medical Association's recommendation of .05. The anti-drunk driving movement recognizes that the driving ability of most Americans is impaired long before their BAC reaches .10. In addition, many of these impaired drivers on the road are impaired as a result of drugs other than alcohol. The term "drunk driving" is intended to incorporate all forms of impairment.

Most anti-drunk driving programs have a dual focus--to decrease the number of impaired drivers on the road, and to provide services to those victimized by impaired drivers. Over 1,000 pieces of legislation have been enacted within the last decade to help law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and victim advocates respond more effectively to the drunk driving problem. In 1984, Congress passed the federal "21" minimum drinking age law, which is credited for saving thousands of young lives. The constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints was upheld in 1990, clearing the way for law enforcement officers to use this highly effective tool to detect drunk drivers and educate the public. Victim Impact Panels have been in operation since 1982, providing a forum for victims of drunk driving crashes to share their stories with offenders who are mandated to attend Panels as part of their sentences. The re-authorization of the Victims of Crime Act in 1988 required that compensation programs which receive federal VOCA monies must compensate drunk driving crash victims in the same manner as other types of crime victims.

Victim/Offender-Use Related: These crimes include those that are consequential to the ingestion of a drug by the victim or offender causing irrational or violent behavior.

This includes perpetration of a crime against a victim by an offender, as well as self-victimization due to mood changes initiated by substance use. Such crimes also include crimes committed by individuals experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as high levels of anxiety and irritability, and intentional ingestion of a drug to "relieve anxieties and stimulate courage" in preparation for acts of violence (Goldstein, 1992, p. 461).
bulletIn 1991, there were 497 alcohol-induced brawls and 252 narcotic-induced brawls (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991, p. 19).
bulletThe Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that 77.7 percent of jail inmates have used drugs and of those, 50.4 percent have used cocaine or crack (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991, p. 6).

Economic Related: Economic crimes include those that are committed by drug users in order to support additional drug use. These crimes may not be inherently violent, but may become violent. The strongest indicator in classifying crimes of this nature is that the offender committed the crime as a result of his or her compulsion to obtain drugs (Goldstein, 1992, p. 462).
bullet13.3 percent of convicted inmates reported that they committed their crime to obtain money for drugs. Of these offenses, 11.4 percent were violent offenses, 24.4 percent were property offenses, and 14.0 percent were drug offenses (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991, p. 7).
bullet33 percent of individuals convicted for robbery and burglary and 25 percent of those incarcerated for larceny and fraud committed crimes to obtain money for drugs (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1991, p. 7).

System Related: These include crimes that are directly or indirectly related to the system of drug trafficking and distribution. This includes violence resulting from dealings between drug dealers, informers, law enforcement officials, etc. Murder as a means of enforcing systemic codes, killing of informants, injury or death resulting from disputes over drug possession, territory, etc. is included in this definition (Goldstein, 1992, p. 462).
bulletIn 1991, 66.6 percent of the arrests for drug abuse violations occurred as a result of possession and 33.4 percent were a result of drug sale and manufacturing (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1991, p. 212).
bulletMurders resulting from narcotic drug offenses totaled 1,344 in 1991, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As the preceding information indicates, drug use and criminal behavior seem to be correlated. The relationship between the number of bookings/inmates and use of drugs perhaps signifies not only that drug use may precipitate criminal activity but, perhaps more significantly, drug users may place themselves at a greater risk for being apprehended. Under the influence of drugs, individuals may engage in more precarious behavior, thus increasing the likelihood that they will be detected and subsequently arrested.


Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Drugs and Crime Facts, 1991. Washington, DC. September 19, 1992.

National Institute of Justice, "Drugs & Crime 1990: Annual Report," in Research in Action: Drug Use Forecasting, Washington, DC. 1991.

Harrison, Lana and Joseph Gfroerer. "The Intersection of Drug Use and Criminal Behavior: Results from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse." Crime and Delinquency (1992), 38 (4): 422-443.

Goldstein, Paul J., Henry H. Brownstein and Patrick J. Ryan. "Drug-Related Homicides in New York: 1984 and 1988." Crime and Delinquency (1992), 38 (4): 459-476.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Crime in the United States, 1991." Washington, DC, August 30, 1992.

For additional information, please contact:

Drugs and Crime Data Center and Clearinghouse
1600 Research Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850
(800) 666-3332

RID-USA (Remove Intoxicated Drivers)
P.O. Box 520
Schenectady, NY 12301
(518) 393-4357

National Center for Victims of Crime
2111 Wilson Blvd.
Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201

FYI: A Program of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

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Copyright 1997 by the National Center for Victims of Crime.   This information may be freely distributed, provided that it is distributed free of charge, in its entirety and includes this copyright notice.


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