Study Shows That Beer Drinkers Are More Likely to Drive Drunk

Times Staff Writer

Drunk drivers most often tank up on beer. Drunk or sober, beer drinkers are less likely to support drinking-and-driving laws than liquor and wine drinkers.

These are among the findings of a survey of 1,000 American drivers conducted by two psychologists at the Claremont Colleges. Dale E. Berger of the Claremont Graduate School and John R. Snortum of Claremont McKenna College said their study reinforces previous investigations of links between beer drinking and higher drunk-driving rates. But they added that their study has taken a closer look at the “attitudes and beliefs that may be tied to beverage preference.”

In their survey, conducted in 1983 but just now being released, Berger and Snortum determined that 28% of beer drinkers generally drink enough to exceed drunk-driving limits in most states. For liquor drinkers the rate was 16% and for wine drinkers, 8%.

Beer’s popular image as a “semi-soft” drink that’s less dangerous than liquor doesn’t wholly explain the significantly higher rate of intoxication for beer drinkers, the two reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol. By their own admission, more than half of beer drinkers said they had recently driven while “slightly intoxicated” while the percentage dropped to 31% for liquor drinkers and 23% for wine drinkers.


Furthermore, after a statistical analysis, Berger and Snortum concluded that no matter what their age, sex, education, income and marital status, beer drinkers still came out as the top group among drunk drivers. This analysis put the brakes on the popular conception that the link between beer and drunk driving is largely due to the fact that young males have the highest drunk-driving rates and their most popular beverage is beer, Snortum and Berger concluded.

Asked about their attitudes regarding drunk-driving laws, only about one-third of beer drinkers “thought that first offenders should spend some time in jail” compared with about 50% of wine and liquor drinkers, Berger and Snortum reported. Beer drinkers also were least likely to favor random roadside breath testing of drivers, they added.

Most Likely to Drive

“For men of all ages and women in the middle-age group, beer drinkers were the most likely to drive after drinking,” the two wrote. “For women under 25, spirits drinkers reached about the same violation levels as beer drinkers. Women over 45 had extremely low violation rates in all alcoholic beverage groups.”


Snortum and Berger offered a number of suggestions as to why beer drinkers stand out in their study. Generally, beer has enjoyed special treatment in this country when compared with other alcoholic drinks, they noted. Some states allow a lower buying age for beer than wine or liquor. Furthermore, the Distilled Spirits Council has voluntarily banned advertising spirits on radio and TV while beer advertising figures prominently in both media. The wine industry also has banned athletes from its ads.

On the plus side, Snortum and Berger found that wine drinkers generally seemed to be moderate drinkers and to strongly support drunk-driving laws. The two said that further study of how wine drinkers developed their attitudes toward drinking and driving might offer insight into how to make public education against drunk driving more effective.