Straight Dope July 11 2009

There’s an old saw about God protecting drunks and fools. I’m particularly interested in the drunks part. Almost nightly, it seems, we hear on the news that a drunk driver killed one or more people in another car but the drunk survived, sometimes without injury. A family member suggested drunks are saved because they’ve passed out and are more relaxed, but I’m skeptical. Is it just the crashes where the drunk walks away after killing another that make the news?

— PLT, Indianapolis

If somebody’s going to walk away from a fatal car crash, you really want it not to be the inebriated loser who caused it. However, while all the facts aren’t in, there’s reason to think drunk drivers sometimes get a break they don’t deserve.

We’ll call what you’re describing the lucky-drunk hypothesis. Although it’s been floating around for a long time, scientists apparently first examined it seriously in a 1982 study of trauma victims treated at a Texas hospital (Ward et. al, American Journal of Surgery). Roughly a third of the 1,200 patients had been drinking.

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(Illustration by Slug Signorino)