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KWIC Indicator Narrative

Arrests for Driving While Intoxicated

Data Provider: NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services


Related Indicators:

  • Young Adult Arrests for Driving While Intoxicated ages 18-24 [view data]

Life Area:

Civic Engagement


The young adult arrest rate for driving while intoxicated (DWI) is defined as the number of arrests for driving while intoxicated per 10,000 young adults aged 18 through 24 in that county. The data shown are counts of fingerprinted arrests for drunk driving.


The use of alcohol impairs vision, cognitive judgment, coordination and motor skills and can inhibit short term memory and the ability to concentrate. Even at a very low blood alcohol content such as .02-.03, alcohol impairs the ability to attend and respond to complex stimuli, such as road and traffic conditions, speed, traffic control devices, lane position, pedestrians, other vehicles, roadway signs, etc. (Brick, 1996). Youth have less driving experience than adults which, compounded with alcohol, puts youth at an increased risk of auto accidents, injury and death.


Community indicators are not direct measures of the population's behavior, but are instead measures of the performance of the community service systems that generate them. Indicator data produced by public service or social control agencies are affected by policy shifts, resource fluctuations, degree of centralization and standardization, local reporting practices and local service delivery differences.

Local qualitative information regarding the "role" of the indicator in the context of its service setting must be obtained and applied when interpreting the results of indicator-based studies. The young adult arrest rate for driving while intoxicated is a direct measure of law enforcement response to underage drinking and drunk driving and is an indirect measure of young adult alcohol use in the population.

In 2020, arrests declined following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. When comparing trends in 2020 to previous years, caution should be used.


  • Statewide, the number of young adult arrests for driving while intoxicated fell 49 percent between 2017 and 2020, from 6,713 to 3,401. The arrest rate declined from 36.8 to 19.8 per 10,000 young adults during this time period.
  • It is clear from the "Young Adult Arrests for Driving While Intoxicated" table that problems with underage drinking and young drinking drivers are found throughout the entire state (legal drinking age is 21). Almost 11 times as many 2020 DWI arrests occurred in the non-New York City counties (3,114) as in New York City (287). The proportion of this gap in arrests is larger than would be expected simply from the difference in relative population numbers: the young adult population of non-New York City counties is only about one-and-one-half times the size of the New York City young adult population.                   
  • Several factors contribute to the large number of arrests in the non-New York City counties. Youth in New York City have more access to public transportation and fewer of them acquire driver's licenses as a result. Youth in non-New York City counties have more access to cars, and more of them have driver's licenses, which may be obtained beginning at age 16. Youth in more rural parts of the state with no public transportation often drive further distances to reach their destinations than do New York City youth. With underage drinking present everywhere, it can be said that collectively, the non-New York City youth are more exposed to DWI activity than New York City youth because there are more young drivers driving more miles in non-New York City counties.          


Brick, John. 1996. Facts on: Driving While Intoxicated. Fact Sheet Number 5 (2). Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.

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