Report calls for systemic approach to reducing rate of high-risk impaired drivers

Dec. 9, 2019

A new report released today by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) calls for a systemic and holistic approach to high-risk impaired drivers that focuses on the individual and the need to treat the underlying problem prompting the unsafe behavior.

Compiled in collaboration with, the spotlight report—dubbed High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combating a Critical Threat—seeks to help State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) and their partners effectively address the problem of high-risk impaired drivers.

The report notes that alcohol-impaired fatalities accounted for 29% of all U.S. motor vehicle deaths in 2018, the lowest percentage since 1982—the year when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began reporting alcohol data. But even with this progress, in 2018 an average of one alcohol-impaired driving fatality occurred every 50 minutes, which translates to 29 deaths each day. By shining the spotlight on high-risk impaired drivers, the report seeks to prevent repeat offenders and reduce the number of fatalities.

The GHSA defines a high-risk impaired driver as a person who lacks the restraint or self-control to resist driving impaired, who also meets at least one of the following: 1.) Drives with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.15 g/dL or higher after consuming alcohol; 2.) Consumes a combination of drugs and alcohol (polysubstance user); or 3.) Is a repeat offender.

GHSA says that the high-risk impaired driver population accounts for a disproportionate number of fatalities, as repeat offenders cause about one-third of impaired driving deaths each year, while high BAC offenders are involved in more than 60% of alcohol-impaired fatalities.

“The traditional criminal justice approach holds these offenders accountable for each impaired driving incident, but to ensure that these high-risk impaired drivers don’t re-offend, we need to expand our approach beyond detection, arrest and conviction,” Darrin Grondel, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Chair of GHSA, said in a statement. “The aim of this new report is to encourage states and their partners to take a more holistic approach to the problem by identifying and treating the cause of the offender’s behavior to reduce recidivism and promote long-term behavior change.”

According to criminal justice experts, individualized justice is more effective at deterring high-risk impaired drivers than the typical legislative response of heavy fines and incarceration. In addition to screening and assessment, this approach calls for testing drivers for the presence of not only alcohol, but also other drugs. Many drug-impaired drivers escape detection, however, due to limitations with enforcement practices or policies that do not require drug testing. Additionally, many states lack the toxicology resources necessary to process drug screenings.