Most Dangerous States for Drunk Driving

The most dangerous states for drunk driving include RI, TX, and WI. The number of DUI-related deaths, arrests, and DUI laws are contributing factors of the most dangerous states for drunk driving.

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UPDATED: May 23, 2022

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Joel OhmanUPDATED: May 23, 2022Fact Checked

Here's what you need to know...

  • Every 50 minutes in the U.S. someone is killed by a drunk driver
  • Drunk driving costs each adult American over $500 annually
  • Montana has the highest DUI death cost and the most lenient DUI laws

Drinking and driving make for an incredibly deadly combo.

Drunk driving research shows that the risk of death by car accident is over eleven times greater for drivers impaired by alcohol.

If you don’t value your own life enough to swap for a soda or catch a ride, you have to at least consider all the innocent people you are putting in danger on the roads around you.

Or maybe money motivates you. Drunk driving accidents, injuries, and deaths on average are costing every American adult over $500 and the U.S. as a whole $132 billion each and every year.

This is quite possibly the costliest, deadliest problem our country has ever faced. Read on to see which ten states are in the most trouble. If you find you live in one of the states with the most DUIs, it may change your view while you’re on the road.

The 10 Deadliest States for Drunk Driving

#10 – Texas

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Arrests – 35th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Fatalities – 9th

Of the total car crash deaths in Texas in 2016, 1,670 which is 44% of them involved an alcohol-impaired driver.

Thankfully, the Lonestar State is trying to corral its drunk drivers.

According to the FBI, In 2016, there was an impressive total of 68,371 DUI arrests made in Texas.

Even Texas judges who beg for leniency will be arrested for drinking and driving. No one should be above the law when it comes to such a dangerous situation.

Hopefully, the extra efforts from law enforcement make a difference, because according to our studies, the public roadways in Texas are some of the deadliest in America.

Texas has ranked in the top five states every year since 2011 for having the worst drivers in the country.

#9 – New Mexico

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Arrests – 29th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Death Cost – 6th

Like its neighbor, Texas, New Mexico is working to stop drunk drivers, ranking in the better half of the U.S. for its number of DUI arrests.

However, the families of the 148 people killed on New Mexico roads in 2016 by drivers impaired by alcohol must feel this is far from enough.

Residents of this “Land of Enchantment” aren’t just paying in deaths and injuries for this selfish behavior either.

Each New Mexico state resident is paying an average of $223.45 every year in taxes to help cover the cost of drunk driving fatalities.

This must be extremely disenchanting for the over two million people living in this state. Furthermore, New Mexico is ranked 2nd in our list of the 10 states with the most reckless drivers.

The state typically has a lot of problems with driving behavior and traffic deaths, even appearing on the worst drivers in the country lists year after year for the past decade.

#7 (Tie) – Nebraska

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Death Cost – 34th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Arrests – 5th

You can’t live “the good life” if you’re killed by a drunk driver or put in prison for being a drunk-driving murderer.

Nebraska’s strengths and weaknesses are the exact opposite of New Mexico’s.

The tax cost might be on the lower end with each resident paying $154.16 to cover drunk driving deaths, but only 7,057 DUI arrests were made in 2016.

Far too many Nebraska drivers are getting away with being drunk behind the wheel considering 38% of all the 2016 traffic deaths in this state involved a driver impaired by booze.

The scariest part? Nebraska was ranked 26th on this countdown last year. Talk about a huge jump in the wrong direction.

#7 (Tie) – Idaho

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Death Cost – 25th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Laws – 3rd

Unfortunately, Idaho’s best ranking factor comes from the fact that state residents are paying $165.17 a year in taxes due to their drunk drivers.

The Gem State isn’t putting a high enough value on all its treasures considering its lax drunk driving laws.

Sobriety checkpoints are illegal by Idaho state law, and it wasn’t until March 26, 2018 that this lenient state started to require ignition interlock devices for all DUI offenders.

This was all because three high school teens noticed a drunk driver and relayed the information to emergency services. After calling 911, they witnessed the driver behaving erratically, smashing into mailboxes and fences.

The driver was apprehended, and it was discovered she was three times over the legal limit, and it was her fourth offense.

If it hadn’t been for those teen heroes, she may have gotten away with it, which is a solid reason for Idaho to start cracking down on drunk driving.

#6 – Rhode Island

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Arrests – 33rd
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Laws – 3rd

Although it’s the smallest state in America, Rhode Island is still making a big impact when it comes to deadly drunk driving in our country.

Little Rhody might be making a good amount of DUI arrests, which equaled over 10% of the total arrests in 2016, but the arrests themselves aren’t going to do any good without laws to back them up.

The State Supreme Court has made sobriety checkpoints illegal in Rhode Island, there aren’t license revocation laws, child endangerment isn’t a felony, and the lookback period is only five years.

Hopefully, Rhode Island officials realize the dangers of drunk driving and take action to strengthen their state laws soon.

#5 – Maine

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Penalties – 38th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Fatalities – 4th

With 42% of all its traffic deaths involving a driver impaired by alcohol, Maine is illustrating the way life shouldn’t be.

Thankfully, Maine takes drunk driving seriously. According to the Bureau of Highway Safety, they have a zero tolerance law. Penalties come from both the state courts and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, including suspending your license, having a mandatory ignition interlock device on your vehicle, driver’s education courses, fines, and possible jail time.

Jumping from 10th place to 5th in under a year, Maine is quickly headed in the wrong direction in regards to drunk driving.

#4 – Montana

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Penalties – 40th
Worst Ranking Factor (Tie): DUI Death Cost & DUI Laws – 1st

It’s pretty sad that the state landing in 5th last year and one spot higher this year wins 1st place for the worst in the US for not just one, but two drunk driving categories.

Montana residents pay the highest amount in the entire country – a whopping $431.65 each year in taxes – to help cover the cost of all the drunk driving deaths in their state.

Plus, “The Treasure State” has the most lenient drunk driving laws and statutes in the entire country with no sobriety checkpoints and lax or non-existent laws regarding ignition interlock devices, license revocation, and refusing a breathalyzer.

Not only has Montana landed in the top five on this countdown, but it got 6th place on our most dangerous highways study and was awarded 1st for being home to the worst drivers in the nation.

#3 – South Dakota

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Penalties – 48th
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Arrests – 1st

Which is the state with the highest DUI rate? Of this list, that’s South Dakota. With 46.55% of the total traffic deaths being caused by a driver impaired by alcohol, there should be far more than just 15.14% of all the arrests being for a DUI.

South Dakotans must feel it’s so unlikely to get arrested for drunk driving, that it’s worth the risk.

The DUI penalties in South Dakota might be on the strict side, ranking in the top five for that category, but these penalties aren’t always enforced.

For example, when Scott Larson got his 9th DUI, instead of 10 years in prison he got 18-24 months in a court program.

It’s even legal in “The Mount Rushmore State” to sell alcohol to someone who is only 18 years old as long as they are with a parent, guardian, or spouse over the age of 21.

#2 – North Dakota

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Penalties – 18th
Worst Ranking Factor (Tie): DUI Death Cost & DUI Arrests – 2nd

Where do most drunk driving accidents occur? North Dakota. Sadly, North Dakota not only ranks in the worst half of the US for all five of the categories in this drunk driving study, but it also ranks among the top ten worst states in three of the five categories.

North Dakota state residents pay $399.76 annually to cover the cost of drunk driving deaths in their state.

It’s good that the North Dakota police force is catching drunk drivers, but it’s clearly a problem when 17.66 percent of all the arrests taking place in the state are for drunk driving.

Considering it has ranked in the top five for being one of the deadliest states for drunk driving four years in a row now, we really hope that “The Peace Garden State” starts waging war against its drunk drivers.

#1 – Wisconsin

Best Ranking Factor: DUI Death Cost – 31st
Worst Ranking Factor: DUI Penalties – 3rd

Thanks to its excessively high number of drunk driving deaths and DUI arrests and due to having some of the most lenient drunk driving laws and penalties, Wisconsin has earned the title: Deadliest State for Drunk Driving.

“People know the first offense is a slap on the wrist,” addressing the issue Wisconsin Senator, Chris Larson in a TMJ4 interview says, “it’s a moving violation.”

With some of the shortest license suspensions for drunk driving, cheapest DUI fines in the country, and sobriety checkpoints being prohibited by the state, Wisconsin is clearly not doing enough to stop drunk drivers.

LifeSafer says, “In every class, there are star students and laggards, and so is it with anti-DUI efforts. Some states do everything they can to address the issue of drinking and driving. And some states are, well, Wisconsin.”

Ranking 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and now 1st for having the most dangerous roads in the U.S. due to drunk drivers, The Badger State needs to make some big changes (and fast) to make roads safer for all those who live there.

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Trends and Highlights Regarding Drunk Driving In These States

Seven of the 10 states from our countdown landed on this deadliest list last year:

As you can see, Rhode Island was the only state to make an improvement from last year, and Maine made the greatest jump in the wrong direction.

Six of the 10 states on this deadliest list had their worst ranking factors land in the top three for the entire country:

  • Idaho: DUI Laws – 3rd
  • Rhode Island: DUI Laws – 3rd
  • Montana: DUI Death Cost & DUI Laws – 1st
  • South Dakota: DUI Arrests – 1st
  • North Dakota: DUI Death Cost & DUI Arrests – 2nd
  • Wisconsin: DUI Penalties – 3rd

Lenient drunk driving laws and far too many traffic deaths caused by drunk drivers are two of the biggest reasons the above ten states landed on this list.

Not once did DUI Laws or DUI Death Rank come up as best ranking factors.

The most common worst ranking factors were DUI Death Cost, DUI Arrests, and DUI Laws, each showing up three times on our deadliest list this year.

Driving While Sober is Practicing Safe Driving Habits

Never driving while impaired by alcohol is the key to ending drunk driving, but you can take it a step further and learn ways to spot drunk drivers and alert the cops.

When your plans involve alcohol, here are some tips to keep yourself and all those around you safe:

  • Have a designated driver
  • Pay for a ride home
  • Hand over your keys
  • Drink Responsibly says, “Since the September 11 terror attacks, over 200,000 men women, and children have died in America as a result of drunk driving…It is time to stand up and admit that as a culture, we drink together and LET each other drive away.”

Methodology Used in Determining Most Dangerous States

All 50 states plus D.C. received a final score based on five main categories that each had its own intricate calculation:

  • DUI Death Rank – a total score derived from two rankings:
    • Percent of the total traffic deaths that were caused by drivers with a BAC of .01-.07
    • Percent of the total traffic deaths that were caused by drivers with a BAC of .08+
  • DUI Death Cost – a total score derived from three rankings:
    • Drunk driving deaths (.08+) for every one million residents
    • Taxpayer subsidy to cover drunk driving deaths for each adult resident
    • Average tax subsidy amount for each drunk driving death
  • DUI Arrests – a total score derived from five rankings:
    • Under 18 DUI arrests for every one million residents
    • Over 18 DUI arrests for every one million residents
    • Total DUI arrests for every one million residents
    • DUI arrests as a percent of the state’s total arrests
    • The total DUI arrests as a percent of the state population
  • DUI Penalties – a total score derived from three rankings:
    • 1st DUI offense penalties
    • 2nd DUI offense penalties
    • 3rd DUI offense penalties
  • DUI Laws – a score based on five components:
    • Ignition Interlock Laws
    • Sobriety Checkpoints
    • Administrative License Revocation
    • Child Endangerment Laws
    • No Refusal Laws

For each category, the highest rankings were awarded to the worst states in the country.

The higher a state ranked in each category, the lower final score it received.

Lowest Scores = Deadliest States for Drunk Driving

Our study implemented weighted measures to demonstrate the impact each manifestation of a category can have on a person, community, and state. Each weight is representative of the severity of the category.

DUI Weight Ranking
Fatality Rank35.00
Cost per Fatality by State10.00
DUI Arrests25.00
DUI Penalties20.00
Types of Laws and Statutes10.00
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These weighted scores are necessary to deduce the most dangerous state. The final rankings, which determine the worst state, are not perfectly correlated with the final scores of the non-weighted rankings, which determines the worst state per category.

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Complete Rankings: Most Dangerous States for Drunk Driving

There are two different ways one can look at the statistics and rankings for the most dangerous states. The first is a weighted table that we’ve put together.

2018 Most Dangerous States for Drunk Driving - Weighted Ranks
District of Columbia0.351.5012.753.602.7020.9020
New Hampshire5.251.503.257.202.7019.9016
New Jersey9.103.908.504.800.8027.1029
New Mexico4.550.607.254.601.6018.609
New York12.953.8010.756.402.7036.6047
North Carolina6.302.606.503.202.7021.3021
North Dakota5.600.200.503.600.8010.702
Rhode Island3.852.808.251.000.3016.206
South Carolina3.500.306.008.001.6019.4011
South Dakota1.050.900.259.600.3012.103
West Virginia15.050.709.005.403.7033.8541
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You can see the difference between the rankings, taking into consideration the fact that one is weighted and the other is not. Both tables show the DUIs by state, as well as the penalties and costs.

2018 Most Dangerous States for Drunk Driving
District of Columbia11551182711220
New Hampshire151513362710615
New Jersey26393424813127
New Mexico136292316878
New York373843322717747
North Carolina182626162711321
North Dakota1622188461
Rhode Island11283353806
South Carolina1032440169310
South Dakota391483644
West Virginia43736273715039
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These state drunk driving statistics might seem harsh, but numbers often show how harsh the reality and gravity of drunk driving truly can be.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that drunk driving is a severe problem, and it’s up to everyone involved to stop it from getting even worse. This list of the worst DUI states is meant to be eye-opening as well as helpful.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.

A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

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