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Economist says that driving drunk is less risky than walking drunk

Earlier this week, economist Steven Levitt went on the popular "Freakonomics" radio show and made a very interesting statement: "If you're faced exactly with two choices, walking drunk or driving drunk, you absolutely should drive drunk," he said.

While it is doubtful that Levitt was promoting or expressing his approval of drunk driving, his statement illustrated some interesting statistics about what he calls "drunk walking." In comparison with auto accidents caused by drunk drivers, there is a much higher risk of pedestrian accidents caused in some part by drunk walkers. Despite this fact, however, there is little to no attention paid to the dangers of drunk walking, either in California or at a national level.

Specifically, about 34,000 people were killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2009, the most recent year for which data was available to Levitt. About half of the people killed were drivers, and 41 percent of the drivers were drunk. In the same year, approximately 4,000 pedestrians were killed in accidents, and 35 percent of the people killed were drunk.

This means that for every mile walked while drunk, the risk of dying is eight times higher than every mile driven while drunk. Therefore, if you need to travel one mile, you are eight times more likely to die if you walk that mile than if you drive it.

It is important to note that New Year's Day (which technically begins right after midnight on New Year's Eve) is one of the deadliest days of the year for pedestrians, and nearly 60 percent of those who die on the holiday are intoxicated.

Source: Freakonomics, "Friends don't let friends walk drunk," Stephen Dubner, Dec. 27, 2011

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