Drivers of large trucks had the lowest occurrence of impaired drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2010, with only 3% of fatal crashes involving truck drivers with a blood-alcohol content above zero, and just 2% caused by drivers with BACs above the U.S. legal limit of .08, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study.

However, startling new NHTSA statistics show 70% of deaths in drunk driving crashes in 2010 involved motorists with blood alcohol levels that were nearly twice the .08 legal limit.

The new NHTSA research indicates the 10,228 alcohol-impaired fatalities in 2010 accounted for nearly one out of three highway deaths on U.S. roads – the equivalent of one death every 51 minutes. During the same time period, more than two thirds of drunk driving deaths (7,145 or 70%) involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or higher. Overall, the most frequently recorded BAC among drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes was .18 BAC.

NHTSA is joining with local law enforcement officers, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the National Center for DWI Courts to mark the official start of its annual anti-drunk driving campaign: “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” which begins Aug. 17. 

More than 10,000 police departments and law enforcement agencies across the country will support the drunk driving campaign that will continue through the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“Thanks to the dedication and hard work of law enforcement and safety partners like MADD, we’ve made significant progress in reducing roadway deaths in recent years,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “But drunk driving remains a serious, unacceptable threat to our families and our communities. Our campaign is clear — if you choose to drive drunk, you will be held accountable.”

As part of its overall program to address drunk driving, NHTSA has also worked with the National Center for DWI Courts to help develop new ignition interlock guidelines, which were released last month. Alcohol ignition interlock systems require drivers to blow into a breathalyzer-like device — usually installed on a vehicle’s dashboard — to ensure the individual is sober before allowing the vehicle to start. The new guidelines help familiarize courts that adjudicate “driving while intoxicated” cases with ignition interlock systems and applicable state laws.

“The latest numbers tell us people are not only making poor decisions and drinking and driving – they are getting deeply intoxicated before getting behind the wheel,” said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland. “The best way to keep our roadways safe is to ensure that law enforcement and other partners have the information they need to tackle the problem head on. With these guidelines, DWI courts now have an important tool to help keep drunk drivers from putting others at risk.”

Targeting drivers in the final weeks of summer through the Labor Day holiday weekend, NHTSA’s annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” crackdown is focused on reducing the tragic toll caused by impaired drivers every year. The efforts involve more than 10,000 police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the nation, who will be redoubling their efforts during this period.

Coinciding with enforcement efforts in communities nationwide, NHTSA will air advertisements in major media markets across the country featuring “invisible” law enforcement officers observing alcohol-impaired individuals unseen before apprehending them when they attempt to drive their vehicles. The ads convey the message that law enforcement officers are both omnipresent and vigilant in deterring drunk drivers. The ad theme and slogan will comprise the agency's core drunk driving message for 2011-2016.

To view the new statistics from NHTSA go to http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811654.pdf.