Teens Drinking & Driving [15 Worst States]

Since the passage of the National Minimum Legal Drinking Act in 1984, the legal age at which someone can purchase and consume alcohol in the U.S. is 21. Despite the higher legal drinking age and stringent punishments for offenders, underage drinking and its associated consequences are still a major problem.

In 2017, 29.8 percent of teens engaged in underage drinking. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 623,000 teenagers ages 12-17 also suffer from an alcohol use disorder (abuse or dependence), accounting for 2.5 percent of individuals in this age group.

Research indicates that drinking underage can lead to a range of negative consequences, including issues with adolescent brain development, increased risk of sexual assault, and increased risk of traffic fatalities. While 3.1 percent of adults report driving after having too much to drink, 5.5 percent of teens nationwide have reported driving after drinking any alcohol, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The good news is that statistics on teen alcohol use and drunk driving are improving. The percentage of teens who reported using alcohol declined from more than 50 percent in 1991 to less than 30 percent in 2017. Similarly, 16.5 percent of U.S. teens in 2017 reported riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol—a decline of more than 23 percentage points during the same time period.

Line graph showing decline in U.S. underage drinking over time

Driving under the influence endangers not only the driver’s life, but also the lives of passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers on the road. Drunk driving traffic fatalities represent almost a third of all driving fatalities. Among the 37,133 motor vehicle fatalities in 2017, 10,874 involved a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher.

line graph showing the correlation of drunk driving fatalities and all traffic deaths in the US

At the state level, there isn’t a statistically significant correlation between drunk driving fatality rates and the proportion of adults who report driving after having too much to drink. However, there is a significant correlation between state-level drunk driving fatality rates and the proportion of high school students who report drinking and driving. States with larger shares of high school students who drink and drive tend to have more drunk driving deaths per capita.

For example, only 2.8 percent of high schoolers in Utah report driving after drinking alcohol, and there are only 1.7 drunk driving traffic deaths per 100,000 people in the state.

By contrast, in Arkansas, 10.7 percent of students report driving after drinking, and the state’s drunk driving fatality rate is 4.8. Nationwide, the number of drunk driving deaths per 100,000 people is 3.4.

Correlation between underage drinking and driving fatalities

 


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In addition to the health and safety concerns associated with underage drinking, there are staggering financial costs as well. The CDC estimates that underage drinking costs the U.S. around $24 billion a year. Similarly, motor vehicle crashes involving alcohol amount to more than $44 billion per year. The financial costs of alcohol-related collisions encompass healthcare, property damage, and lost workplace productivity.

To find where teens are most likely to drive under the influence, our researchers analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). They ranked states by the percentage of teens who reported driving after drinking one or more times in the past 30 days. Below are their findings.

15 States With the Most Teens Drinking and Driving

Boise, Idaho USA capitol boulevard building

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#15 – Idaho

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.0%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 15.9%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 26.5%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 2.9%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 3.5 per 100k people
Phoenix, Arizona USA evening city view with mountain in the background

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#14 – Arizona

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.2%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 19.2%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 33.1%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 2.1%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 4.0 per 100k people
Hartford, Connecticut, USA downtown city skyline on the river.

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#13 – Connecticut

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.3%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 17.2%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 30.4%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 3.2%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 3.4 per 100k people
A winding road in western Nebraska, United States.

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#12 – Nebraska

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.3%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 22.1%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 24.4%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 5.1%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 3.6 per 100k people

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Buck O'Neil Bridge in Kansas City, Kansas

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#11 – Kansas

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.4%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 18.6%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 29.9%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 2.9%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 3.6 per 100k people
ountry Road in Madison County, Iowa, USA

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#10 – Iowa

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.5%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 20.8%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 27.6%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 5.2%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 2.9 per 100k people
Albuquerque, New Mexico. county road and clouds

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#9 – New Mexico

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.5%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 20.4%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 26.2%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 2.0%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 5.9 per 100k people
Badlands, North Dakota, driving through the rock formations of badlands national park

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#8 – North Dakota

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 6.5%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 16.5%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 29.1%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 4.7%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 6.2 per 100k people
Washington DC, Pennsylvania Avenue, aerial view

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#7 – District of Columbia

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 7.0%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 22.1%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 20.5%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 3.3%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 2.3 per 100k people

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Austin, Texas, USA downtown skyline

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#6 – Texas

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 7.1%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 20.8%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 26.8%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 4.3%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 5.2 per 100k people
View of Lake Champlain and Adirondacks from Mt. Phillo in Charlotte, Vt

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#5 – Vermont

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 7.3%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 17.9%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 33.0%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 2.9%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 2.9 per 100k people
Charleston, South Carolina, USA city at St. Michael's Episcopal Church

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#4 – South Carolina

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 7.5%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 18.1%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 25.4%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 3.1%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 6.3 per 100k people
Open road at sunset, Montana, USA

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#3 – Montana

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 7.6%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 19.8%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 33.1%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 3.7%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 5.4 per 100k people
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA skyline from Louisiana State

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#2 – Louisiana

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 10.0%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 28.2%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 34.0%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 4.6%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 4.7 per 100k people
Little Rock, Arkansas, USA at the state capitol

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#1 – Arkansas

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: 10.7%
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: 26.3%
  • Teens who drank alcohol: 25.7%
  • Adults who drove after having too much to drink: 3.1%
  • Drunk driving traffic deaths: 4.8 per 100k people

Methodology

Data on teen drinking patterns is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Details for the reported metrics are described below:

  • Teens who drove when they had been drinking: in a car or other vehicle, one or more times during the 30 days before the survey, among students who had driven.
  • Teens who rode with a driver who had been drinking: in a car or other vehicle, one or more times during the 30 days before the survey.
  • Teens who drank alcohol: at least one drink of alcohol, on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.

Adult drinking and driving statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), and alcohol-related traffic death statistics are from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). For the purpose of this report, drunk driving fatalities are those in which the highest driver blood alcohol concentration involved in the crash was above the legal limit of 0.08.

All data is for 2017, the most recent available year. States are ordered by the percentage of teens who report driving when they had been drinking. The CDC does not provide this data for the following states: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Full Results

RankStateTeens Who Drink & DriveTeens Who Rode with an Impaired DriverTeens Who Drank AlcoholAdults Who Drove After Drinking Too MuchDrunk Driving Traffic Deaths
1Arkansas10.7%26.3%25.7%3.1%4.8
2Louisiana10.0%28.2%34.0%4.6%4.7
3Montana7.6%19.8%33.1%3.7%5.4
4South Carolina7.5%18.1%25.4%3.1%6.3
5Vermont7.3%17.9%33.0%2.9%2.9
6Texas7.1%20.8%26.8%4.3%5.2
7District of Columbia7.0%22.1%20.5%3.3%2.3
8North Dakota6.5%16.5%29.1%4.7%6.2
9New Mexico6.5%20.4%26.2%2.0%5.9
10Iowa6.5%20.8%27.6%5.2%2.9
11Kansas6.4%18.6%29.9%2.9%3.6
12Nebraska6.3%22.1%24.4%5.1%3.6
13Connecticut6.3%17.2%30.4%3.2%3.4
14Arizona6.2%19.2%33.1%2.1%4
15Idaho6.0%15.9%26.5%2.9%3.5
16Maryland5.9%14.2%25.5%2.8%3.1
17New Hampshire5.8%14.4%29.6%2.4%2
18Florida5.8%17.1%27.0%3.7%4
19Massachusetts5.7%14.4%31.4%3.9%1.8
20Virginia5.6%14.2%24.5%2.9%3
21Wisconsin5.5%17.4%30.4%3.9%3.3
22West Virginia5.4%12.8%27.9%2.6%4
23North Carolina5.4%15.4%26.5%2.6%4
24Oklahoma5.3%14.6%31.6%2.3%4.3
25Missouri5.3%15.7%32.0%4.1%4.2
26Colorado5.3%13.4%26.2%2.9%3.2
27Illinois5.2%19.2%27.4%3.8%2.8
28Pennsylvania5.0%16.5%31.1%3.2%2.5
29Nevada5.0%16.8%25.8%3.1%3
30California4.9%15.4%30.0%2.8%2.9
31Maine4.3%NA22.0%2.6%3.8
32Alaska4.3%16.4%22.8%4.7%3.1
33Kentucky3.9%NA26.6%3.3%4.1
34Michigan3.7%15.1%29.6%3.7%3.1
35Utah2.8%14.7%10.6%2.3%1.7

*Traffic deaths are for every 100,000 state residents