The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced levels of stress that many people have never experienced. Most Americans have worried about their own health as well as family and friends, economic issues due to lock-downs, and the emotional turmoil of isolation.
According to the American Psychological Association, in February 2021, 84% of American adults reported feeling prolonged stress. Unfortunately, statistics are showing that many people turned to alcohol consumption in order to try to deal with their increased stress.
In a December 2020 article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, three professors from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland showed that Americans were drinking more alcohol, and that this increase was directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated stress. They found that 60% of survey respondents reported increased drinking during the pandemic, with only 13% of respondents saying they drank less. Stress was the number one listed reason for additional drinking, by 45.7% of respondents, followed by increased alcohol availability (34.4%), and boredom (30.1%).
Taking these top three factors together, it should come as no surprise that people are questioning whether or not the rates of driving under the influence of alcohol have gone up due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is difficult to determine direct relationships between the pandemic, stress, and drunk driving, it does seem that drunk driving related incidents were on the rise during 2020.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report in March of 2022 that showed that alcohol impaired driving fatalities were up 14.3% between 2019 and 2020 as a national average, and only 11 states saw the number of alcohol related driving fatalities decrease during that time. Arizona’s rate increased only slightly below the national average, at 13.1%.
Of particular debate has been the introduction of carry-out alcoholic beverages during a time in the pandemic when bars and restaurants were closed and home delivery or take-out were the only options for people to get restaurant food. Many people were concerned – and remain concerned as states debate whether or not to continue to allow the practice – that “take-out” alcohol would lead to more DUIs because people would be tempted to start drinking their beverages while driving home. To try to answer this question, an organization called R Street analyzed the data provided by the NHTSA and found no correlation between to-go style alcohol beverages and drunk driving fatalities.
Drunk driving in Arizona, from COVID and beyond
Just like the rest of America, people in Arizona have struggled with alcohol over the past few years. That being said, the odd circumstances of the pandemic have also made it more difficult to determine reality from what should otherwise be clear cut data. Yes, more people may have been drinking more alcohol, but less people were driving in general, and bars were closed, so should DUI arrests go down because people were drinking at home?
Comparisons between Labor Day Weekend drunk driving between 2018 and 2020 (6 months into the pandemic) show that the number of arrests went down, from 531 to 399. In the same holiday weekends, the number of extreme DUIs (blood alcohol content of over 0.15%) was 35% lower in 2020 than what it was in 2018.
That being said, average blood alcohol content levels increased from 0.152% to 0.164%. But then, we look at the holiday season of 2021 (considered December 1 through December 31) and see an increase in both arrests (13% higher) and extreme DUIs (35% higher) compared to the same season in 2020. By the end of 2021, businesses were mostly running back to normal, so it would make sense that with more people on the road, there would be more DUI arrests.
The fact is that with such a limited sample size of years, statistically significant data is hard to determine. Regardless, it is safe to say that studies related to the effects of COVID-19 will certainly continue for years to come.
Can I sue a drunk driver if I’m injured in a crash?
An analysis conducted by WalletHub found Arizona to have the toughest DUI laws in the entire country. WalletHub assessed DUI laws in two parts – Criminal Penalties and Prevention. For Criminal Penalties, Arizona was the toughest state; for Prevention, it was the second toughest, only falling behind Arkansas (which came in 22nd overall, as it was 48th in Criminal Penalties).
Regardless of the outcome of the criminal case, however, you can file a claim in civil court if you are injured by a drunk driver. Under the law, injury victims can seek damages for:
- Medical expenses, including rehabilitation, medications, hospital visits, and more
- Lost wages, including a loss of future earning potential as well as any wages lost by a spouse or child who served as caretaker
- Pain and suffering associated with the accident, including damages for mental and emotional trauma
- Loss of consortium and companionship (between spouses, when applicable)
- Property losses and associated expenses, including costs and expenses associated with retrofitting a home to be adaptable for wheelchair use
- Funeral and burial expenses (when applicable in fatal accidents)
Were you or a loved one injured by a drunk driver in Phoenix? Our attorneys want to help. Call the experienced team at Plattner Verderame, PC, at 602-266-2002, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation today. We have offices in Phoenix and Tempe, and serve people throughout the state.
I have been active in leadership in the Arizona Association for Justice (lawyers who represent injured folks, and formerly known as the Arizona Trial Lawyers Association) since 1985. I served as President in 1991. I was an active participant in battles to protect the Arizona Constitution from the insurance industry and big business interests in 1986, 1990 and 1994.
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