Insights

Drunk Driving Capitals of the U.S.

Drunk driving has, overall, subsided as a national habit.

DUIs are on the decline nationally—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s latest study even notes that drunk-driving fatalities have decreased by one third in the past three decades. This is likely due to the rise of research and educational initiatives aimed at raising public awareness of the dangers of impaired driving.

But that doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t persist across the country. In fact, someone dies from a drunk driving accident every 50 minutes—that amounts to 29 fatalities a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, over a quarter of all traffic-related deaths are the result of alcohol impairment.

Across the nation, some cities and towns see a markedly higher prevalence of DUIs—posing a threat to those communities’ drivers. Interested in which cities are home to the most offenders, the data scientists at Insurify, a car insurance comparison shopping website, sought to rank U.S. cities by their proportion of drivers with DUI histories. Here’s what they found:

  • National averages. The data scientists at Insurify found that the national average proportion of drivers with a DUI in the past seven years is 1.58 percent. While some of America’s most populous cities greatly exceed this proportion, others boast numbers that are well below the national average. Furthermore, countywide statistics on excessive drinking in the past 30 days, as reported by County Health Rankings and Roadways, ranged from 16 to 27 percent of the population in counties that are home to the nation’s most populous cities. Insurify’s data scientists also found that 7 cities among the nation’s 15 most populous report higher rates of traffic fatalities that involve alcohol impairment than the national average of 28 percent.
  • West isn’t best. Cities in the western half of the contiguous United States were vastly overrepresented in the final list. Only two cities east of the Mississippi River—Virginia Beach, Virginia and Paducah, Kentucky—cracked the top 25. Nearly half of the top 25 consists of cities in Nevada, Colorado, and California.
  • California drinkin’. Speaking of the Golden State state, California has a major drunk driving issue. A whopping 8 cities from Southern California alone take a spot in the top 25. Three SoCal cities within the nation’s 15 most populated cities also see a higher incidence of DUIs than the national average.
  • Avoiding danger in America’s top cities. While some major cities possess alarming statistics on drinking behavior and alcohol-related driving fatalities, their DUI rates tend to stay below the national average, and well below those of the mid-sized cities that dominate the top 25. This could be due to a number of factors, including access to alternative modes of transportation.

Methodology

Insurify provides car insurance quotes based on customers’ answers to questions about driving history, vehicle type, and other personal data. The rankings in this article are based on a set of 1.5 million car insurance shopper applications. Each shopper was asked whether any drivers on their policy application had been cited for a DUI (driving under the influence) in the past seven years. Using this information, the data scientists at Insurify were able to calculate the percent of drivers in each city with a DUI in their driving history, and ranked the top 25. They also found DUI data for the 15 most populous cities in the nation, and calculated the likelihood of these cities’ drivers having a DUI against the national average of 1.58%. They observed this data alongside county-based statistics on adults reporting excessive drinking behavior (binge or heavy drinking) in the past 30 days, and the percentage of driving deaths that involved alcohol. These data points were gathered from an expansive 2016 County Health Rankings study. Population data was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s June 2017 Population Estimates.

 

DUI Rates in the Top 15 Most Populous Cities

1. New York, New York

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.12%
  • Difference from national average: 29% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 27% (New York County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 7% (New York County)
  • City population: 8,622,698

With access to NYC’s public, private, and rideshare transportation networks, New York drivers boast lower DUI rates than the national average. That said, over a quarter of adults in the greater county admit to drinking excessively in the past month—the highest proportion across the 15 most populous cities in the U.S.


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2. Los Angeles, California

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.71%
  • Difference from national average: 8% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 17% (Los Angeles County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 26% (Los Angeles County)
  • City population: 3,999,759

A city known for its notorious traffic congestion, LA is also home to drink-and-drivers at a proportion 8 percent higher than the national average—not as bad as some of its Southern California neighbors. Furthermore, although over 25 percent of the county’s crashes involve alcohol impairment, this proportion is still not as high as those in the California cities of San Diego (29 percent) and San Jose (30 percent).

3. Chicago, Illinois

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 0.53%
  • Difference from national average: 66% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 22% (Cook County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 33% (Cook County)
  • City population: 2,716,450

Only half a percent of Chicago drivers report a DUI from the past seven years on their record. DUI laws in Illinois are infamously strict; a first offense could earn you a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Despite this legal deterrent, a third of deadly crashes in the greater Chicago area are the result of an impaired driver behind the wheel.


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4. Houston, Texas

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 0.89%
  • Difference from national average: 44% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 16% (Houston County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 17% (Houston County)
  • City population: 2,312,717

Texas’ most populous city has a modest number of drivers reporting a DUI; of the five Texas cities on this list, Houston has the lowest proportion of DUI offenders, and has the greatest difference in proportion from the national average, positive or negative. Houston County statistics on excessive drinking and DUI fatalities are similarly middle-of-the-road.

5. Phoenix, Arizona

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.78%
  • Difference from national average: 13% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 19% (Maricopa County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 27% (Maricopa County)
  • City population: 1,626,078

With over 25 percent of traffic deaths involving alcohol, some Maricopa county drivers present a risk when they get behind the wheel. Outside of Southern California, Phoenix is the westernmost city out of the nation’s most populous with a DUI rate of over 1.75 percent. Complicating matters is Arizona’s zero-tolerance DUI laws, which allow for DUI arrests to be made even when a driver’s blood-alcohol content is below the legal limit of .08 (yes, even if it’s .00).


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6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 0.82%
  • Difference from national average: 48% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 22% (Philadelphia County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 23% (Philadelphia County)
  • City population: 1,580,863

Compared to the national average, this historic city sees a lower incidence of DUI arrests among its drivers, but not for lack of drinking enthusiasm. Nearly a quarter of adults in the county report recent heavy or binge drinking, and close to 25 percent of all traffic deaths in the metropolitan area can count alcohol as a culprit.

7. San Antonio, Texas

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.10%
  • Difference from national average: 30% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 19% (Bexar County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 31% (Bexar County)
  • City population: 1,511,946

A dangerously high number of traffic deaths in Bexar County (31 percent) involve alcohol. But are the perpetrators of these crashes getting caught before they get in accidents? San Antonio’s DUI stats, by comparison to the national standard, are certainly not the worst in Texas.


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8. San Diego, California

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 2.56%
  • Difference from national average: 62% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 22% (San Diego County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 29% (San Diego County)
  • City population: 1,419,516

San Diego earns the dubious honor of being the city with the most drivers with a DUI among the nation’s 15 most populous urban centers, perhaps following in the footsteps of its SoCal neighbors (see the table above). Drinking to excess and DUI-related fatalities seem to be significant characteristics of San Diego County, too.

9. Dallas, Texas

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.62%
  • Difference from national average: 3% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 17% (Dallas County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 34% (Dallas County)
  • City population: 1,341,075

While 17 percent of Dallas’ adults admit to having heavily drank in the past month, over a third of car crashes in the county are due to alcohol impairment—the highest proportion among the five Texas cities in the nation’s top 15 most populous cities. Accordingly, Dallas is the only Texas city on this list with a DUI rate that is higher, not lower, than the national average.

10. San Jose, California

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 2.45%
  • Difference from national average: 55% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 16% (Santa Clara County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 30% (Santa Clara County)
  • City population: 1,035,317

San Jose does little to improve California’s reputation as a DUI epicenter. Nearly 2.5 percent of its drivers have a DUI citation in their recent past, and the greater Santa Clara County area sees 30 percent of its traffic deaths involving alcohol impairment in some capacity.

11. Austin, Texas

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.90%
  • Difference from national average: 20% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 18% (Austin County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 18% (Austin County)
  • City population: 950,715

In Texas’ capital city, about 2 percent of drivers run into trouble with the law thanks to impaired driving. Eighteen percent of adults report having drank heavily in the county in the past month; coincidentally, the same percentage of traffic deaths are alcohol-related.

12. Jacksonville, Florida

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 0.75%
  • Difference from national average: 53% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 20% (Duval County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 32% (Duval County)
  • City population: 892,062

The most populated city in Florida reports a much lower percentage of DUI offenders than the national average, but the statistics on heavy drinking and alcohol-related traffic fatalities paint a somewhat contradictory picture. Nearly a third of crash deaths in Duval County can count driver impairment among their causes. Meanwhile, recent reporting has suggested that an increase in rideshare services like Lyft and Uber, especially among young adults, has led to a fall in DUI arrests in South Florida—do Northern Floridians have some catching up to do, even with their relatively low DUI rates?

13. San Francisco, California

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.71%
  • Difference from national average: 8% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 24% (San Francisco County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 17% (San Francisco County)
  • City population: 884,363

The Golden Gate city proves a little less dangerous than California’s southern metropolitans in terms of DUI deaths. But a slightly higher proportion of adults in San Francisco County report having drank to excess in recent weeks (24 percent, as compared to San Diego’s 22 percent or Los Angeles’ 17 percent).

14. Columbus, Ohio

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 2.02%
  • Difference from national average: 28% higher
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 20% (Franklin County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 35% (Franklin County)
  • City population: 879,170

Over 2 percent of drivers in the so-called Biggest Small Town in America have a DUI on their record. And a whopping 35 percent of traffic deaths in the county prove to be DUI-related—the highest proportion among America’s 15 most populous metropolitan areas.

15. Fort Worth, Texas

  • % of drivers with a DUI: 1.23%
  • Difference from national average: 22% lower
  • % of adults reporting excessive drinking: 18% (Tarrant County)
  • % of traffic fatalities involving alcohol: 27% (Tarrant County)
  • City population: 874,168

Fort Worth drivers keep apace with the four other Texas cities on this list, with roughly 1 percent of drivers having a DUI in their past and a county statistic on excessive drinking in the high teens.

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Insurify's team of data scientists and content specialists present Insurify Insights, a series of automotive and demographic studies focusing on driver behavior, regional superlatives, and national rankings. Through expert analysis of over 1.5 million car insurance shopper applications, the Insurify Insights team produces new data-driven articles every week.