What Works: Strategies to Reduce or Prevent Alcohol-Impaired Driving
The strategies in this section are effective for reducing alcohol-impaired driving.* They are recommended by The Guide to Community Preventive Services, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Different strategies might require different resources for implementation or have different levels of impact. This information can help decision makers and community partners see gaps and identify the most effective strategies to reduce alcohol-impaired driving.
Lower Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits
Alcohol-impaired driving laws make it illegal to drive with a BAC at or above a specified level (0.05 grams per deciliter [g/dL] or 0.08 g/dL, depending on the state). Globally, most high-income countries have BAC laws set at 0.05 g/dL or lower,1,2 and these laws are effective for reducing crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers and deaths from these crashes. These laws serve as a general deterrent and reduce alcohol-impaired driving even among drivers who are at highest risk of impaired driving. Utah implemented a 0.05 g/dL BAC law in 2018. This law was associated with an 18% reduction in the crash death rate per mile driven in the first year after it went into effect. The new law was also associated with lower alcohol involvement in crashes.3
Other Laws and Policies That Can Reduce Access to Alcohol and Alcohol-Impaired Driving
Zero tolerance laws make it illegal for people under age 21 to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems. These laws and laws that maintain the minimum legal drinking age at 21 are in place in all 50 states and D.C. They have saved tens of thousands of lives. Maintaining these laws is critical.
Policies that make alcohol less accessible, available, and affordable are effective for reducing drinking to impairment and can also help to prevent alcohol-impaired driving. Some examples include increasing taxes on alcohol and regulating alcohol outlet density to reduce the number of retailers that can sell alcohol in a particular location.
Publicized sobriety checkpoints allow law enforcement officers to briefly stop vehicles at specific, highly visible locations to check drivers for impairment. Officers may stop all or a certain portion of drivers. Sobriety checkpoints should be well publicized, such as through mass media campaigns, and conducted regularly for greatest impact.
High-visibility saturation patrols consist of a large number of law enforcement officers patrolling a specific area, usually at times and locations where crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers are more common. These patrols should be well publicized and conducted regularly just like sobriety checkpoints.
Ignition interlocks for all people convicted of alcohol-impaired driving, including first-time offenders, can be installed in vehicles to measure alcohol on a drivers’ breath. Interlocks keep vehicles from starting if drivers have a BAC above a certain level, usually 0.02 g/dL. Interlocks are highly effective at preventing repeat offenses while installed. Incorporating alcohol use disorder assessment and treatment into interlock programs shows promise in reducing repeat offenses even after interlocks are removed.4
Alcohol Use Disorder Assessment and Treatment Programs
People who have alcohol use disorder (AUD) can benefit from long-term, tailored, and specialized treatment programs. Ideally people would receive treatment for AUD before committing an alcohol-impaired driving offense. However, when people are arrested for alcohol-impaired driving, this can serve as an opportunity to assess drinking habits and refer them for brief interventions (described below) or specialized treatment. Treatment for people with AUD who are convicted of alcohol-impaired driving is most effective when combined with other strategies (such as ignition interlocks) and when offenders are closely monitored. Treatment should not replace other strategies or remove alcohol-impaired driving sanctions from a person’s record. Assessment and treatment are critical to the success of driving while impaired (DWI) courts, which are specialized courts focused on changing the behavior of people who are convicted of alcohol-impaired driving.
Alcohol Screening and Brief Interventions5,6
Alcohol screening and brief interventions typically focus on identifying people who drink alcohol excessively but do not have AUD. Ideally people would be identified before committing an alcohol-impaired driving offense. However, an alcohol-impaired driving arrest can be used as an opportunity to screen people for excessive alcohol use. Brief interventions involve assessing readiness, motivators, and barriers to behavior change. These interventions can be delivered in person or electronically (such as on computers or cell phone apps) in many settings, such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, and universities.
Multi-component interventions combine several programs or policies to reduce alcohol-impaired driving. The key to these comprehensive efforts is community mobilization, in which coalitions or task forces help design and implement interventions.
School-Based Instructional Programs
School-based instructional programs are beneficial for teaching teens not to ride with alcohol-impaired drivers.
* Unless otherwise noted by a numbered reference, the content for this page comes exclusively from the following sources:
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasures Guide for State Highway Safety Offices, Tenth Edition, 2020
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on Accelerating Progress to Reduce Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities. Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem. Negussie Y, Geller A, Teutsch SM, editors. Washington, DC: National Academies Press (US); 2018.
- Dellinger AM, Yellman MA. Chapter 170: Road Safety and Injury Prevention. Maxcy-Rosenau-Last Public Health & Preventive Medicine, 16e. Boulton ML, Wallace RB, editors. McGraw Hill; 2022.
Working together, we can keep alcohol-impaired drivers off the road. Fact sheets are available for each state and the District of Columbia. They include national and state data on alcohol-impaired driving and crash deaths involving alcohol-impaired drivers, as well as an overview of proven strategies for reducing and preventing alcohol-impaired driving.
- Impaired Driving: Get the Facts
- Data and Resources for States and Tribes
- Motor Vehicle Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator for States (MV PICCS)*
*CDC offers an interactive calculator to help state decision makers prioritize and select from a suite of 14 effective motor vehicle injury prevention interventions. MV PICCS is designed to calculate the expected number of injuries prevented and lives saved at the state level and the costs of implementation, while considering available resources.
- World Health Organization. Global status report on road safety 2018. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2018.
- Yellman MA, Sauber-Schatz EK. Motor Vehicle Crash Deaths — United States and 28 Other High-Income Countries, 2015 and 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71:837–843. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7126a1
- Thomas FD, Blomberg R, Darrah J, Graham L, Southcott T, Dennert R, Taylor E, Treffers R, Tippetts S, McKnight S, Berning A. Evaluation of Utah’s .05 BAC per se law (Report No. DOT HS 813 233). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); February 2022.
- Voas RB, Tippetts AS, Bergen G, Grosz M, Marques P. Mandating treatment based on interlock performance: evidence for effectiveness. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2016;40(9):1953–1960. doi:10.1111/acer.13149
- Tansil KA, Esser MB, Sandhu P, Reynolds JA, Elder RW, Williamson RS, Chattopadhyay SK, Bohm MK, Brewer RD, McKnight-Eily LR, Hungerford DW, Toomey TL, Hingson RW, Fielding JE; Community Preventive Services Task Force. Alcohol Electronic Screening and Brief Intervention: A Community Guide Systematic Review. Am J Prev Med. 2016;51(5):801–811. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2016.04.013
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Final Recommendation Statement – Unhealthy Alcohol Use in Adolescents and Adults: Screening and Behavioral Counseling Interventions. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force; November 2018.