Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving

By Member Thomas Chapman

Impaired driving, in some form or another, has been on every NTSB Most Wanted List since its inception in 1990. And with more than 10,000 impaired-driving deaths each year, it’s hard to imagine ever removing it. We have made safety recommendations about impaired driving prevention since 1968.Yet the problem persists.

Part of the challenge we face at the NTSB is that we generally issue safety recommendations to entities, not individuals. If we issued safety recommendations to every individual ever arrested for impaired driving—even excluding those actually involved in impaired-driving crashes—we would be issuing impaired-driving recommendations to one million individuals per year.

Instead, we hope individuals will understand their personal responsibility as drivers and make smart and safe choices when they get in their vehicles. Impaired driving is 100 percent preventable. We have investigated many impaired-driving crashes, and for individual drivers, the lessons we have learned always boil down to a single word:


Don’t drive drunk, don’t drive after “a drink or two,” don’t drive after using even one dose of any impairing drug. But experience tells us that some drivers will ignore this message. They will get behind the wheel when they have no business being there, start the engine, and take their chances—with their own lives, their passengers’ lives, and the lives of other road users. Just counting arrests, drivers take that chance and lose a million times a year. About 10,000 times a year, impaired drivers take a chance, and someone loses their life.

While alcohol impairment continues to cause nearly three out of every ten traffic deaths in the United States, other impairing drugs pose a different, but overlapping, challenge. The 2013–2014 Texas Roadside Survey found that one in five drivers surveyed were using one or more impairing drug—licit or illicit, prescribed or over the counter.

Drinking and Driving: a Stubborn Problem

In our 2013 report, Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving, we recommended that states do the following:

  • Reduce the per-se blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for all drivers to .05 g/dL or lower
  • Conduct high-visibility enforcement of impaired-driving laws and incorporate passive alcohol-sensing technology into enforcement efforts
  • Expand the use of in-vehicle devices to prevent operation by impaired drivers
  • Use driving while intoxicated (DWI) courts and other programs to reduce recidivism by repeat DWI offenders
  • Establish measurable goals to reduce impaired driving and track progress toward those goals

.05 percent BAC

We recommended that states lower the legal per-se BAC limit from .08 percent to .05 percent or lower. We know a BAC of .08 g/dl is simply too high. In 2018, Utah became the first state to lower its legal BAC limit to .05 percent, and other states are considering following suit. This change isn’t only about preventing crashes involving drivers with BACs between .05 percent and .08 percent, though. Research shows that reducing the legal BAC limit from .08 percent to .05 percent serves as a broad deterrent, lowering alcohol-involved crashes and crash deaths across the board.

Interlocks for all Offenders

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, one-third of alcohol-impaired driving fatalities are caused by repeat offenders. States need to require drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device. These devices keep a car from starting until a breath sample has been provided, analyzed for ethanol content, and determined to be lower than prescribed limits.

Impairing Drugs Other than Alcohol

Other impairing drugs present a different problem. Although we have investigated many crashes involving drivers under the influence of drugs other than alcohol, we don’t really know the extent the problem. Many of our recommendations surrounding impairment focus on finding the best ways to spot the problem. However, unlike for alcohol, no standardized drug-testing protocols exist for other impairing drugs, and there is no established limit or threshold to determine impairment by other drugs. Additionally, evaluating the impact of impairing drugs on drivers is challenging because many drugs impair individuals differently.

The Bottom Line

States, regulators, and industry can take action to reduce deaths and injuries from drunk driving. In terms of alcohol, we know that states and individuals can change the all-too-often grim outcomes. The question is whether they choose to. For drugs other than alcohol, it’s time we improve testing, especially as attitudes and laws change toward these drugs and they become more widely used.

We at NTSB will continue to advocate for our safety recommendations for education, legislation, and technology to end this deadly problem. But ultimately the problem comes down to individual choice. Choose to drive sober or designate a sober driver.  You can drink responsibly, you can drive responsibly, but you cannot drink and drive responsibly.

Learn More

NTSB Most Wanted List: Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving

Pickup Truck Centerline Crossover Collision with Medium-Size Bus, Concan, TX, March 2017

Multivehicle Work Zone Crash on Interstate 75. Chattanooga, TN, June 2015

Safety Study: Reaching Zero: Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving. May 2013

Episode 40: Motorcycle safety month

May has been designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as National Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, to help motorists understand standard motorcycle driving behaviors and learn how to drive safely around motorcycles on our roadways.

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @ NTSB, NTSB Highway Crash Investigators Kenny Bragg and Mike Fox discuss our investigation of the June 2019 collision between a pickup truck with a trailer and a group of motorcycles in Randolph, New Hampshire, its safety recommendations, motorcycle safety tips, and other considerations that drivers should take when sharing the roadway.

Behind-the-Scene @NTSB podcast Motorcycle Safety episode

The NTSB final report for the Randolph, New Hampshire, crash mentioned in this episode is available on our website.

To learn more about the NTSB Most Wanted List and the Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach and Prevent Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving safety items, visit our Most Wanted List web page.                                                                                                                                        

The previously released podcast episode featuring Kenny Bragg is available on our website.

The previously released podcast episode featuring Mike Fox is available on our website.

Get the latest episode on Apple Podcasts , on Google PlayStitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.

And find more ways to listen here:

Episode 39: Marine Safety

May 22-28, 2021, has been designated as National Safe Boating Week, which kicks off a yearlong campaign promoting the importance of wearing a life jacket.

In this episode of Behind-the-Scene @ NTSB, we talk with Morgan Turrell, Director, NTSB Office of Marine Safety, about the 2021-2022 Most Wanted List safety item Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety, the NTSB Safer Seas Digest and recent marine investigations. Morgan also shares boating safety tips, including the importance of wearing a life jacket, as we approach the Memorial Day Holiday weekend.  

Behind-the-Scene @NTSB podcast Marine Safety episode

The NTSB Safer Seas Digest mentioned in this episode is available on the Safer Seas Digest 2019 Lessons Learned from Marine Accident Investigations web page.

The full report for the investigation into the fire aboard the small passenger vessel Conception is available on our web site.

For information about the upcoming NTSB Board meeting on the 2019 sinking of the fishing vessel Scandies Rose read the media advisory.

Get the latest episode on Apple Podcasts , on Google PlayStitcher, or your favorite podcast platform.

And find more ways to listen here:

Improving Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety

By Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

May 22–28 is National Safe Boating Week, calling to mind well known campaigns against boating while intoxicated, distracted operations, and promoting proper use of life jackets on watercraft. But the present NTSB Most Wanted List puts a special emphasis on a lesser-known issue: the safety of passenger vessels and commercial fishing vessels.

It’s critical to watch out for your own safety and that of your guests on board personal watercraft, but when you step aboard a passenger vessel or go to work on a fishing vessel, somebody else is responsible for the whole range of safety concerns, from having appropriate fire-detection devices to well-maintained lifesaving equipment. We’re working to ensure that marine operators have your safety in mind, in part, by asking the country’s marine transportation regulating authority, the US Coast Guard, to implement our safety recommendations.

Passenger Vessels

Passenger vessels range in size from small charter vessels, such as dive boats and amphibious passenger vessels (DUKW boats or “duck boats”) to large cruise ships operating in international waters. The number of passengers and crew on these types of vessels varies.

Fires can pose a catastrophic threat to passenger vessels, as we saw in the 2019 Conception dive boat accident off the coast of California, in which 34 people died. Our investigations have revealed that crew training and safety regulations for these vessels vary, increasing the risk to passengers and crew. We have investigated 74 fire-related marine accidents since 2010.

To prevent needless deaths and mitigate injuries, passenger vessels should:

  • have safety management systems,
  • use voyage data recorders, and
  • provide adequate fire-detection, extinguishing systems, and available emergency egress options.

Operators should ensure their crews have enhanced training that includes practicing fire drills and learning firefighting techniques. We also need to see existing requirements for roving patrols enforced to ensure passengers are being transported safely.

Additionally, amphibious passenger vehicle operators should instruct passengers that seat belts must not be worn while the vessel/vehicle is operated in the water. Each passenger should visually check to ensure they have unbuckled their belt when the vessel enters the water.

Commercial Fishing

The commercial fishing industry, which remains largely uninspected, is another marine sector of concern. Fishing consistently tops the list of most deadly occupations due, in large part, to challenging work environments, such as poor weather and rough waters. These conditions threaten vessel stability and integrity, which, as we’ve seen in our investigations, can lead to catastrophic results. More than 800 people have died on fishing vessels in the past two decades.

We need new standards to address—and periodically reassess—intact stability, subdivision, and watertight integrity in commercial fishing vessels up to 79 feet long. Many fishing crews aren’t trained in stability management techniques or emergency response, and we have found that many vessels do not have proper life-saving equipment, such as flotation devices and operational search-and-rescue locator devices.

Back on the Water

As more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, many Americans are considering travel again, including on personal craft, passenger, and fishing vessels. The NTSB will continue to investigate accidents such as allisions, groundings, sinkings, and vessel fires in which people are injured or lose their lives, vessels are damaged or destroyed, or there is a threat to the environment. These cases are rare, and we hope to make them rarer, but as traffic on our waterways begins to return to pre-pandemic levels, the likelihood of an accident increases.

The dedicated men and women of the US Coast Guard work to improve safety on both passenger and fishing vessels by implementing recommendations that come out of our investigations and studies. We continue to urge the US Coast Guard to act on our passenger and fishing vessel recommendations to make these marine sectors as safe as possible for crews and passengers.

Learn more

Improve Passenger and Fishing Vessel Safety

National Safe Boating Week

Fire Aboard Small Passenger Vessel Conception
Santa Barbara, CA | September 2019

Sinking of Amphibious Passenger Vessel Stretch Duck 7
Branson, MO | July 2018

Capsizing and sinking of fishing vessel Destination
George’s Island, AK | February 2017

Fire aboard Roll-on/Roll-off Passenger Vessel Caribbean Fantasy
Atlantic Ocean, 2 Miles Northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico | August 2016

Capsizing and sinking of fishing vessel Christopher’s Joy
Southwest Pass, LA | September 2014

A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety Roundtable

By Member Thomas Chapman

An estimated 42,000 traffic deaths occurred in 2020. This is an alarming number.

From 2014 to 2019, overall traffic fatalities increased by 10 percent.  Over the same period, however, annual traffic deaths among vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists) jumped from 9,935 to 12,062— a 21 percent increase. If you only look at pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, there was a 25 percent increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2019. So, disproportionately, increasing numbers of vulnerable road users are being killed on our roadways. We must do more to reverse this upward trend.

In April, we adopted our 2021–2022 Most Wanted List. The list includes a new safety item, Protect Vulnerable Road Users Through a Safe System Approach. With traffic fatalities trending in the wrong direction, it’s appropriate to evaluate how we approach roadway safety. At the NTSB, we’re focusing our attention on a Safe System approach.

How is a Safe System approach different?

Traditionally, as we have tried to mitigate and prevent crashes by changing individual human behavior, we’ve sought to convert everyone into perfect drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. We try to reduce injury severity by increasing occupant protection and improving crashworthiness. We tend to put roadway safety in the hands of each individual road user, rather than taking a holistic approach. We’ve seen tremendous safety improvements through the years, such as developing safer vehicles, and we have seen a significant decline in motor vehicle occupant deaths over decades. But the overall trend is not downward, especially not for those outside of motor vehicles.

A Safe System approach focuses on injury severity by seeking to eliminate death and serious injury. In exchange, some less severe crashes are more tolerable. Instead of trying to make us all perfect drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists, a Safe System approach assumes that we all make mistakes and emphasizes methods to prevent these mistakes from causing deaths or serious injuries. Human vulnerabilities are accommodated by managing kinetic energy through engineering, design, and policy. We also acknowledge that road safety is a shared responsibility among road users, designers, planners, engineers, corporations, and policy makers.

That’s why, next week, we’re hosting an NTSB MWL Roundtable: A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety. We recognize the need to educate others about what the Safe System approach is and to emphasize that Safe System—which underpins Vision Zero policies and initiatives—can’t be merely a slogan; it must integrate all proven safety countermeasures. Our virtual roundtable will highlight the key elements of the Safe System approach and will kick off our safety advocacy actions on this issue for the next two years.

What should you expect from the roundtable?

We have a very strong lineup of panelists planned for the event. An expert from Sweden— the birthplace of Vision Zero—will discuss the origin, history, and principles of a Safe System approach. Other panelists will provide national, state, and local perspectives on implementing a Safe System approach, and we’ll discuss the elements of such an approach—safe roads, vehicles, road users, and speed, as well as post-crash care. Member Jennifer Homendy, along with NTSB staff from the offices of Highway Safety and Research and Engineering, will also share their perspectives.

Want to learn more about the roundtable?

Visit our event page, A Safe System Approach to Traffic Safety ( The event is open to the public. Register for the roundtable. You can also submit a question for the panelists by writing to