Drunk Driving Fatalities Increase While DUI Arrests Are Down

Blurry police car lights and police force officer. Visual concept for a legal blog discussing drunk driving fatalities on the rise while DUI arrests drop nationwide.

According to a May 2, 2024, article in the Wall Street Journal, drunk driving deaths across the country are up, yet arrests for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) continue to decline. The result is a major setback for road safety efforts and an unfortunate and entirely preventable loss of human life.

Deaths from drunk driving have increased to levels not seen in almost 20 years. Yet, at the same time, drunk driving arrests have plummeted, largely due to chronic understaffing of police departments and the State Highway Patrol, lack of public concern, and a nationwide backlash against police stops.

Drunk Driving Fatalities Halved Between 1980 and 2010

In the early 1980s, drunk driving killed more than 20,000 people every year. By 2010, that number had fallen to around 10,000 deaths per year, largely due to high-profile public education campaigns like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), tougher penalties for Driving Under the Influence, and aggressive law enforcement that included sobriety checkpoints.

Throughout the 2010s, drunk driving fatalities hovered around 10,000 per year. Yet DUI arrests continued to decline. According to experts like Captain Chris Kinn of the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Jonathan Adkins, who runs the Governors Highway Safety Association, the primary drivers of the decline in DUI arrests were a lack of law enforcement visibility and officer’s reluctance to work weekend nights, despite the enticement of overtime pay.

The 2020s See Drunk Driving Fatalities Creeping Back Up

Many researchers expected that the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 would decrease the number of drunk driving fatalities. Yet drunk fatalities spiked, likely due to an increase in risky behaviors like speeding, lack of seatbelt use, and drunk driving on roads that were relatively empty because so many people were staying home.

DUI Arrests Remain at Multi Decade Lows

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), DUI arrests are at multi-decade lows. They dropped from just over a million in 2019 to about 780,000 in 2020. In 2022, the latest data available, there were 788,000 drunk driving arrests.

Then came the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which prompted a nationwide backlash against police and the perception that the public was no longer supportive of traffic enforcement.

Ohio Officials Intent on Reducing Drunk Driving Fatalities

In Ohio, where DUI and drunk driving trends largely mirror national trends on DUI arrests and fatalities, officials have said they are intent on reducing the number of deaths caused by drunk driving and other types of drug impairment.

Governor Mike DeWine has stated, “Saving lives is an absolute top priority.” He believes, “[I]t’s an enforcement issue. I think it’s an education issue. I think it’s also judges enforcing that law.” Yet the State Highway Patrol, like many public agencies, remains short-staffed. Despite a budget for over 1,500 State Troopers, only 1,350 positions are filled. The presence of State Troopers on Ohio highways and seeing officers make DUI arrests when necessary are key deterrents to drunk driving.

According to Stephanie Manning, Chief Government Affairs Officer at MADD, “People drive drunk because they can.” She wants “law enforcement to be able to do their job so that if you make that poor choice, that illegal choice, you’re going to face some serious consequences. That’s what’s going to change people’s behavior.”

Robenalt Law Fights for People Who Were Injured or Killed in Accidents with Drunk Drivers

The nationwide trend of increasing drunk driving fatalities and decreasing DUI arrests is concerning. State officials must be held to their word and take steps to increase DUI enforcement and curb drunk driving fatalities. The fate of Ohio motorists depends on it.

If someone you love was injured or killed by a drunk driver, Robenalt Law can help. Tom Robenalt has decades of experience representing people who were injured and the families of people who were killed in auto accidents. To put his expertise to work for you, call (216) 223-7535 or contact Robenalt Law today to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help.

Categories: Drunk Driving