Yes, by every reasonable measure, Missourians are much, much more likely to die from COVID-19 than from a drunk driver.
According to statistics compiled annually by the Missouri State Highway Patrol from local law enforcement agencies across the state, 201 people died in 2020 in traffic crashes that were believed to involve someone — not necessarily the driver of a vehicle — who was impaired by drugs or alcohol.
So far, in approximately 10 months, the New York Times database shows that 6,323 Missourians have died from COVID-19 as of late Monday night.
Since 2002, the first year for which online records are available, through this month, 4,721 people have been killed in drunk driving or drug-impaired crashes in Missouri.
Those numbers show clearly that Missourians in general are dying at an astronomically higher rate from COVID-19 than from drunk driving crashes.
But during Monday’s meeting, Maryville resident John McBride specifically cited the survival rate of those who have contracted COVID-19 versus someone who is involved in a crash with a drunk driver, saying he was more likely to die from a drunk driver than from COVID-19 in that specific instance. This is not a comparable measure to determine whether someone is more likely to die from COVID-19, however, since such a small percentage of Missourians are annually involved in drunk driving crashes.
Furthermore, this particular hypothetical is impossible to measure accurately since the highway patrol does not compile the number of people involved in drunk driving crashes as part of its database reports, only those who were injured or killed, and the total number of crashes and fatal crashes.
As such, in 2020, there were 5,465 crashes in Missouri that involved drugs or alcohol, compared to more than 453,000 cases of COVID-19 since March. Even if every crash involved four participants, the average Missourian would be over 20 times more likely to contract COVID-19, statistically speaking, than to be involved in a drunk driving crash.
However, for the sake of the exercise, since 2002 about 3.1 percent of drunk or drug-impaired crashes resulted in at least one fatality — a ratio that has held more or less true year-to-year as well. But unlike COVID-19, multiple people can be involved in one crash, including multiple fatalities and multiple non-injuries. The 4,721 people killed in such crashes since 2002, for example, occurred in only 4,270 crashes.
But since McBride was not advocating for driving drunk, in this particular hypothetical there must be at least two participants involved in each crash — him, and the drunk driver. In that case, the rate falls nearly in half to about 1.7 percent, using the number of people killed in drunk driving crashes rather than the number of fatal crashes.
That figure is comparable to the death rate of about 1.4 percent among Missourians who have contracted COVID-19.