Why Do People Drive Drunk? Maybe Because It’s Safer Than Walking Drunk

This is a revised version of a post originally published at Cars In Depth.

I was going to write a snarky post based on Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics argument that, over the same distance, it’s safer to drive drunk than to walk drunk until I saw a figure that gave me pause. We can easily understand that 41% of the 34,000 people who died in traffic accidents in 2009 (the last full year of available figures) in the US were alcohol impaired but nearly as high a percentage, 35%, of the 4,000 or so pedestrians killed in traffic accidents that year were also drunk.


…Every mile walked drunk, turns out to be eight times more dangerous than the mile driven drunk. To put it simply, if you need to walk a mile from a party to your home, you’re eight times more likely to die doing that than if you jump behind the wheel and drive your car that same mile.

Of course Levitt isn’t advocating that people drive drunk, but calling your friend a cab might be a greater kindness than simply taking away his or her keys and telling them to walk it off. In any case, no matter whether you and your friends are teetotalers or dipsomaniacs the problem of drunk pedestrians still affects you. One of the things that makes today’s cars look the way they do are standards to protect pedestrians.

We all have to drive the cars built to those standards and try to see over the end of the tall, blunt hoods they inspire. The standards call for more crush space on vehicle noses and more deformable space between the hood and the top of the engine, with hoods made of softer materials than used currently. The idea is to reduce the force of pedestrians’ heads hitting the hood. All of that ultimately affects the way that cars look. That’s not just an aesthetic consideration, exterior styling affects a driver’s ability to see the road. Pedestrian safety standards are only going to get stricter.

Proposed pedestrian safety systems include hoods that raise themselves pyrotechnically, like airbags.

Having been on the receiving end of a car/bicycle accident, I’m sympathetic to pedestrians who get run down by cars. However, I was at fault in that accident and the 35% of pedestrians who get killed when drunk also have to bear at least some of the blame for their own demise. Yes, most pedestrians who get killed by motorists aren’t drunk, and I’m sure none of us wants drunk pedestrians to get killed either. However, when the issue of pedestrian safety comes up, the focus is almost always on the responsibilities of drivers and car manufacturers, and rarely on the pedestrians’ own behaviors and obligations. When pedestrian safety comes up, though, don’t you think that the discussion should include the fact that a good chunk of the pedestrians who get hurt or killed by drivers aren’t kids in crosswalks, businesspeople stepping off the curb or moms pushing baby carriages but rather drunks?


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