The Impact of COVID on DUI Arrests: Before and After

How has the pandemic impacted driving in the United States? The answer may surprise you.

With lockdowns, we are all driving less, and many of us are delighted to be rid of our commutes to and from work. On the rare occasions we do drive, we find less crowded roadways. With fewer emissions from vehicles, we are lessening our impact on the environment, too.

Policeman checking woman driver for alcohol intoxication

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) measures vehicle miles traveled (VMT) every year, and their preliminary data for 2020 suggests that VMT decreased by 13.2%, a reduction of about 430,200,000,000 miles.

It may seem like the decline in traffic volume is the only bright spot as we combat COVID-19, but surprisingly, this reduced traffic has not made roadways safer.

Let's unpack the data and tease out why our roadways are less safe despite the lighter traffic by examining drunk driving statistics by experienced DUI attorneys in West Palm Beach & Fort Lauderdale, including DUI arrests and deaths in 2020.

2020 Accidents & Fatality Rates

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) suggests that traffic deaths are up even though we are driving less. Fatalities are up 7.2% from 2019. In 2020, they estimate that 38,680 people died in automobile accidents.

The National Safety Council estimates that the increase is even higher. Their data for 2020 suggested an 8% increase in vehicle-related deaths from the previous year, putting the number of fatalities closer to 42,060.

Traffic deaths in relation to the number of miles driven have increased. NHTSA calculates the rate of fatalities per 100-million VMT. In 2019, the rate was 1.11 fatalities per 100-million VMT, and this rate increased to 1.37 fatalities in 2020.

What may be driving this alarming trend is that drivers are engaging in more risk-taking behaviors on the road. With less traffic and open roads, some drivers felt emboldened to drive recklessly. Some drivers are speeding and not wearing seat belts.

Speeding is estimated to be the main driver of this alarming trend. The number of tickets for driving over 100 miles per hour, a speed that increases the likelihood of fatalities significantly, is up. In Minnesota, for example, the number of tickets state troopers gave out for this infraction doubled.

Additionally, impaired driving pushed the number of fatalities upward. With the closure of bars and the isolation of lockdowns, more Americans were drinking alone and without a designated driver. There's also evidence of increased use of opioids and marijuana. Experts are concerned that these trends will continue once traffic returns to normal volumes, which could be even more deadly.

Catherine Chase of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says that she is “especially concerned that as more and more people go back on the roadways, that these patterns and behaviors don't subside and people continue to speed, continue not to wear their seat belts, drive impaired — but there will be more people on the roads."

DUI Arrests Before COVID-19

Generally, fatal accidents where at least one driver is impaired by alcohol were on a modest downward trend before the pandemic. Nationwide alcohol-related traffic fatalities declined 3.6% from 2018 to 2019. These were the lowest figures the NHTSA has seen since it started recording alcohol-related traffic data in 1982.

DUI Arrests During COVID-19

NHTSA found that alcohol-involved crashes reported by the police were up 9% during 2020. We are still waiting for more complete data, but generally, states are seeing declines in DUI arrests with evidence of a few exceptions.


Minnesota consistently has one of the lower rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the country. In the first month of the pandemic when the lockdown was first put in place, one location saw a 70% decline in DWI (the state's term for DUIs) arrests over a weekend compared to the same weekend a year before.

New York

New York is another state that consistently has a comparatively low rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. There is evidence that drunk driving is declining in this state that was hit so hard by the pandemic, too.

During one week in April 2020, Central New York saw its DWI arrests decrease by 60%.


California has about 2.8 alcohol-related traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, and it has the highest number of DUI arrests in the nation. Like Minnesota and New York, however, DUIs are decreasing during the pandemic. The number has plummeted to 4,223, down from 7200 the previous year. That's almost a 42% decrease.

DUI Data & Statistics Throughout the State of Florida

Florida ranks a bit higher than the national average for alcohol-related traffic fatalities. For example, in 2018, it had 3.8 fatalities per 100,000 people compared to the national rate of 3.2.

Florida is seeing a decline in DUI arrests after COVID-19. Current numbers from the NHTSA record 2, 563 DUI arrests since the pandemic began, down from 5,125 prior to the pandemic.

DUI crashes are down 33% and alcohol-related traffic fatalities have declined by 50%

March often sees a high number of DUI accidents in the state. The pandemic saw 15 crashes in March 2020, down from 19 crashes a year prior.

There is some evidence that DUIs are up in some areas. During the first month of the pandemic, Florida's Treasure coast saw a 21% increase in DUI arrests.

Have You Been Arrested for a DUI?

With bars and nightclubs reopening in Florida in September 202, DUI checkpoints and arrests have returned. If you have been arrested for a DUI, you may be feeling scared and uncertain about your future. It is imperative that you contact a DUI attorney as soon as possible. Florida only gives you 10 days to take action to protect your driving privileges.

When your driving privileges and livelihood are at stake, you need legal representation from an experienced DUI attorney. Matt Shafran, a former prosecutor, has the experience to provide you with the best defense for your case.

He will review every detail of your case in order to defend your rights. He knows how crucial driving can be in a place like Florida, and he will leave no stone unturned as he fights to restore your driving privileges. For a free case evaluation, contact Weinstein Legal today at 888-626-1108.

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