The American Beverage Institute

More Interested in Profits than Lives?

By Eddie Wren, for Drive and Stay Alive, Inc.

May 24, 2022

On May 23, the American Beverage Institute [A.B.I.] issued a press release1 via P.R. Newswire in which they stated:

“Unfortunately, ineffective tactics widely used today, including roadblocks and P.R. campaigns, target responsible adults while they ignore the root cause of today’s drunk driving problem — hard core product abusers and repeat offenders.” [D.S.A. italics]

But might this assertion have anything to do with “roadblocks and P.R. campaigns” affecting sales? And, if that is the case, might it just be that the A.B.I. is rather conveniently ignoring one key factor — in addition to a wide range of international data — in its quest for less impact on its members’ profits?

Firstly, if one examines a recent report from the NHTSA 2, one finds that, in 2003, 1670 drivers with prior D.W.I. convictions were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S.A.

Of these, 1103 (66 percent) had at least 0.01 percent Blood Alcohol Concentration [B.A.C.], and of these, 1105 had a B.A.C. of at least 0.08 percent (i.e., 91 percent of those with any alcohol had a B.A.C. of 0.08 percent or higher).

In the same year, 54304 drivers with no prior D.W.I. convictions were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S.A.

Of these, 12581 (23 percent) had at least 0.01 percent B.A.C., and 10511 ha,d a B.A.C. of at least 0.08 percent (i.e., 84 percent of those with any alcohol).

A further 2182 drivers were involved in fatal crashes, but no B.A.C. measurements are known for these individuals.

Therefore, of those drivers involved in fatal crashes with a B.A.C. of 0.08 percent or higher, 1105 had a prior conviction for D.W.I., whereas 10511 did not.

In other words, slightly less than 9 percent of all drivers with a B.A.C. of 0.08 percent or higher, who were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S.A. during 2003, repeated drunk-drive offenders who had one or more prior D.W.I. convictions.

So as severe as the problem of repeat offending may be, in terms of human lives obliterated, it is only a relatively small part of the overall problem.

Secondly, the A.B.I. — and others who like to challenge drunk driving laws or the enforcement of such — repeatedly fall back on the fact that people with the highest B.A.C. levels are involved in a large proportion of drunk driving fatalities (see below). But should we be surprised by that fact? Isn’t it a prominent and well-known fact that the more a person has to drink, the more significant the crash risk? Logically, one could not expect this situation to be any different.

The A.B.I. states:

Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that the average blood alcohol content (B.A.C.) of a drunk driver in a fatal car crash is 0.19% — more than twice the legal limit. In addition, the NHTSA administrator has said that today’s problem is “by far and away” made up of “those with alcohol use disorders.” An NHTSA study found that “specific deterrence strategies, like roving patrols that ‘hunt down’ D.W.I.s, might be the optimum means for targeting the hard-core drinking driver.”

“[T]he several D.W.I. arrests made by the roving patrol program was nearly three times the average number of D.W.I.s made by the checkpoint programs,” NHTSA reported. “If making a large number of D.W.I. arrests is an objective of a program, [the data] suggests that roving patrols would be the preferred option.”

Drive and Stay Alive [D.S.A.] has not seen Dr. Runge’s comment that “today’s problem is ‘by far and away’ made up of ‘those who have alcohol use disorders’,” so we cannot comment on that. But however accurate this quote may be, the key point is that the phrase “by far and away” categorically does not mean “exclusively,” so our question to the A.B.I. is this:

If — for the sake of argument — we wildly guess that “by far and away” means 80 percent, or maybe even 90 percent, America would still be left with significantly more than a thousand people being killed each year in crashes involving drivers with B.A.C.s over 0.08 percent but not close to the 0.19 percent which you quote (above). So why would you — the A.B.I. — appear to suggest that this terrible number of family tragedies, each year, is somehow less unacceptable or perhaps irrelevant when compared to the deaths caused by people with higher B.A.C.s?

The A.B.I. press release concludes with the following paragraph:

“Roadblocks, lower arrest thresholds, and red-ribbon campaigns are not going to change the behavior of the alcohol abusers who are the source of today’s drunk driving problem,” said A.B.I. executive director John Doyle. “These efforts divert funds and attention away from the real problem. Instead, we must use the most effective law enforcement methods to get drunk drivers off the road.”

The misinformation hidden in the above paragraph lies in the use of the phrase: “the real problem.”

Indeed the “real problem” is everyone who drinks beyond reasonable limits and then drives, Mr. Doyle! As mentioned above, it is unacceptable to imply that heavy drinkers are the only problem. Why else would so many people be killed each year by those with B.A.C.s below the figures you like to focus upon?

Indeed, with a now-national limit of 0.08 percent, the U.S.A. still lies in an equal-third position for the highest B.A.C. limits worldwide (along with a further 20 countries). Only Cyprus and Swaziland are known to have higher limits.3

On the other hand, 58 different countries have a B.A.C. limit of 0.05 percent or lower. Why? Because medical and road safety research worldwide has brought the broad consensus that 0.05 is the maximum allowable limit if a reasonable degree of safety is to be maintained. One of the many proponents for a global B.A.C. limit of 0.05 percent is the World Medical Association.4

As for sobriety checkpoints — which the A.B.I. prefer to describe instead emotively as roadblocks — the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS], in their April 2005 ‘Status Report,’ state that “the effectiveness of checkpoints should not be determined by how many drivers are netted. The number might not be more than D.W.I. patrols could apprehend. Instead, the primary reason checkpoints are effective is that they are obvious, so they change drivers’ perceptions of the likelihood of being apprehended for D.W.I. offenses…” 5

D.S.A. agrees with the A.B.I. in their closing sentence: “We need to use the most effective law enforcement methods we have to get drunk drivers off the road.”

The difference is that at D.S.A., we believe this mandate must apply to all drunk drivers and to use all available methods to achieve this goal, definitely not just some attempt to draw attention away from those dangerous lawbreakers who — despite the A.B.I.’s somewhat repetitive press releases — are indeed exceeding the U.S. legal B.A.C. limit and are certainly over the level classed as hazardous by the majority of relevant scientists and national governments around the world.

Judging by the A.B.I.’s comments — see above — and the overall tone of their press release, it would appear that they class people who only exceed the legal B.A.C. limit by a relatively modest margin to be (quote) responsible adults. But they are not; they are probably dangerous.

Eddie Wren


1. Sobriety Checkpoints Not Effective in Catching Drunk Drivers, American Beverage Institute
2. Alcohol Involvement in Fatal Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes, 2003 (Page 24 online, p. 9 in hard-copy version – Table 15)
3. International Blood Alcohol Limits, D.S.A.
4. World Medical Association Statement on Alcohol and Road Safety
5. IIHS Status Report — Reflecting on the Alcohol-Impaired Driving Problem Worldwide and What to do about it