"My friend Bob got his third DUI this year. That dumb jackass hit a lake! I don't think drinking and driving is funny, but you gotta admit, that is pretty hilarious!"What happens when the Hard-Drinking Party Girl, Lady Drunk, Life of the Party, Lampshade Wearer, Drunken Master, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Jack Daniels, or just someone who's been drowning their sorrows gets behind the wheel of their car. Prior to The '80s, this trope was often a source for comedy, even in a by-the-book Cop Show like Adam 12 when the cops pull them over. However, a greater awareness of the deadly menace of motorists driving under the influence have now made it a source of An Aesop for a Very Special Episode, and placed jokes about it solidly in Dude, Not Funny! territory. As a result, impaired drivers gonna hit someone and have a car accident, or be chased down by heroes and/or the police to prevent it. If it's a near miss, it's a Scare 'Em Straight. In television, tends to be a shortcut for declaring a character The Alcoholic, or that The Alcoholic is heading Off the Wagon. Also happens frequently after a Wild Teen Party as An Aesop. Sub-Trope of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy. Also, compare Drives Like Crazy, except this one tends not to be Played for Laughs, unless the incident was incredibly absurd (to the point of Noodle Incident) and either no one was killed or injured or only the drunk driver was in a Karmic Death. note
— Kathleen Madigan
open/close all folders
- Far more Scare 'Em Straight themed commercials than there is room to list.
Anime & Manga
- In Macross: Do You Remember Love? Roy Fokker takes his Valkyrie out to rescue Hikaru after some serious drinking. He dies and Misa and Hikaru get thrown into hyperspace.
- Roy sorties drunk again in Super Robot Wars Alpha Gaiden.
- In the original Tenchi Muyo! OVA, the crew take Ryo-ohki to attack Kagato. Mihoshi starts feeding her alcohol midflight, resulting in a drunken sentient spaceship.
- MAD editors and writers had a special Berserk Button about this dating back to the early sixties.
- In two consecutive issues of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) comic, Candy Appel and Billy both hitch a ride with the same drunk driver. He ends up crashing his car to avoid a collision with the Soft Master. After killing the Soft Master, Scrap Iron blows up the car for good measure. A later issue reveals that Candy and the drunk driver burned to death, but Billy survived minus one eye and one leg.
- In Spider-Man's comic, being arrested for this is what convinced his old friend Flash Thompson to clean up his act and seek help for his alcoholism. Sadly, Norman Osborn includes poor Flash in a plot to drive Spider-Man to murderous violence by attacking his family and friends; under the pretense of picking him up from an AA meeting, Norman force-feeds him whiskey and has him crash a truck into Midtown High School, where Peter works. (Flash survives, but is in a coma for the rest of the arc.)
- Funky Winkerbean: One of the major changes in the strip's history led to Wally Winkerbean's decision to join the Army. In a 1996 storyline, Wally and teen-aged girlfriend Becky Blackburn go to a party, get very drunk and Wally drives her home; along the way, the two get into a romantic mood and begin to French kiss. Just as the steamy kiss is causing them to have a near-orgasm, Wally forgets that he is driving and the car completely misses a curve. The car turns over in a ditch, and while Wally is only slightly injured, Becky is pinned underneath the car and nearly dies. Although Becky's life is ultimately saved, her arm is too severely broken to be saved and it is amputated. (To add insult to injury, this was right after she'd been accepted into Julliard on a flute scholarship.) In the aftermath, Wally (unable to accept the consequences of his actions) decides to join the Army — which will take him to Afghanistan, lead a mission to ban land mines and ultimately be taken prisoner, held for 10 years — while Becky remains a one-armed woman to this day. Amazingly, she forgave Wally and was married to him for several years ... until the day an Army officer informed her that Wally was dead after the helicopter he was riding in was shot down (he had actually survived the crash but was taken prisoner); she later remarried to John Howard, the comic book store owner.
- In Aftermath Of The Games, the human version of Twilight Sparkle's parents were killed by one of these three years prior to the story. The woman, Berry Punch, survived without a scratch and was arrested and put in prison for at least eight years. As for Human Twilight, she was taken in by her brother and sister-in-law, and still grieves for her parents.
- In Persona EG, the reason Sonata's sisters died was because Adagio was driving drunk on Halloween night. She got herself, Aria, and the driver of another car killed, and permanently damaged Sonata's throat.
Films — Live-Action
- In North By Northwest, bad guys force-feed Cary Grant's character a quart of whiskey and put him behind the wheel of a car, sending him on his way. He somehow manages to avoid killing himself or anyone else, but gets thrown in jail. His mother and lawyer bail him out, taking these events to be his usual carousing hijinks over his frustrated explanation.
- Hitchcock's Notorious includes a scene where Ingrid Bergman's character is drunkenly swerving on the road while Cary Grant calmly sits as a passenger. Even leads to a cop driving alongside on a motorcycle, apparently not afraid that she might swerve into him.
- In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy's first potential sex partner is a serial drunk driver who needs Andy to blow into the Breathalyzer attached to her ignition. She swerves all over the road and nearly gets them both killed many times on the way home.
- Jack Rafferty in Sin City drives drunk. He dies that night but it had nothing to do with his state, surprisingly.
- In the beginning sequence of Final Destination 2, the driver of a beer truck is seen taking a pull from a bottle of beer shortly before everything goes to hell. It was not the triggering factor in the huge pileup, but it may have been a contributing factor.
- A variation occurs in Iron Man 2, in which Tony Stark, dying of palladium poisoning, is at a party, smashed out of his gourd, and wearing his Powered Armor, which of course contains a number of dangerous weapons, to show how close to hitting bottom he is.
- In Basic Instinct, Gus gets behind the wheel while he's hammered, even though his partner Nick offers to drive him home. He manages not to get himself killed.
- In A Few Good Men, a decidedly drunk Lt. Kaffee drives to catch up with the walking Lt. Cdr. Galloway and apologize for his rudeness. An example so uneventful that you might not even notice.
- A drunk driving incident spawns the intervention of Life of the Party
- Played for Laughs in the Norwegian version of Olsenbanden og Dynamitt-Harry. Harry tries to drive while heavily intoxicated. He insists that he's fine, but...
[Harry and Benny are in the car, with Harry in the driver's seat]
Benny: Wouldn't it be better if I took the wheel now?
Harry: Nonsense! Nonsense! Get thee behind me! Listen! No one drives as well as old Harry... with a tiny supporting BAC, right? No one!
Where's the car? [looks around and realizes he's sitting in it] Here's the car.
[incomprehensible slurred speech] Pay attention now!
[accidentally puts the car in reverse and backs up into a building, creating a small explosion]
[manages to drive forward, but drives through two fences before crashing]
I think you should take the wheel for a while. [detaches the steering wheel and hands it over to Benny]
- Honor Harrington features a character killed in an accident with a drunk driver. This causes problems for those still alive because the character in question was the subject of an investigation and the previous government was fond of Make It Look Like an Accident-style murders to remove political opponents. So even though the accident was legitimate, no one would ever believe it.
- In Atlas Shrugged, Joe Scott, the engineer willing to take the Comet into the Taggart Tunnel with a coal-burning engine, happens to be drunk, and it is presented as a sign of the new political order, and Joe Scott's good connections to it, that the railroad is willing to tolerate having one of its workers show up drunk. He claims that the Comet can make it through the tunnel if he goes fast enough. Everybody on board the train suffocates, and the tunnel is destroyed.
- In The Baby-Sitters Club, Abby and Anna Stevenson's father was killed in a crash with a drinking driver prior to their arrival in the series. Also, the book Mary Anne and the Memory Garden is based around the girls grieving for a classmate when she dies as a result of an accident involving drunk driving.
- According to the narrator of Honoré Beaugrand's 19th century short story La Chasse-galerie, the Devil is happy to lend lonely voyageurs a flying canoe in which to travel from their logging camp to their hometown New Year's Eve party on the other side of Quebec, provided they don't mention God or crash into any church steeples while paddling it. This proves trickier than expected when you're drinking and flying.
- Growing Pains: The episode "Second Chance," where Carol's goofy boyfriend Sandy (Matthew Perry in an early appearance) is once again the butt of Mike and Ben's silly jokes when he's late for his date ... until they learn (from a phone call) the reason why: He was in a major car accident the previous evening. Viewers later learn that Sandy and Carol had been drinking heavily the night before, and after leaving Carol off, had crashed his car. Sandy appears to be OK, and Carol is thankful that he was just slightly hurt ... but only later do viewers learn the truth: When they get home, Mike has some somber news: Sandy just died from internal bleeding due to his injuries. Carol refuses to believe this at first, but it soon becomes apparent Mike's "cruel joke" (to her) was anything but.
- The Dukes of Hazzard: In at least one episode, Cletus' bumbling is immediately turned serious when he stops chronic drunk Hobie (unknown last name) in at least one episode. The no-nonsense attitude Cletus takes toward drunk driving was likely to send a stern message about one of the consequences of drunk driving — that you might get arrested.
- The Jack Webb-produced Adam-12 and Emergency! both had episodes where the main characters dealt with drivers under the influence and drunk drivers who had caused car wrecks.
- My Two Dads: Teased in one 1989 episode, where Nicole and her friends come home drunk. When Michael and Joey learn that the driver of Nicole's car was drunk and Nicole scoffs at the notion that she was in jeopardy of being involved in a serious accident, they decide to teach her a lesson by getting drunk and threaten to go out for a drive. They stop short when Nicole realizes the consequences of her actions.
- Dallas: A recurring storyline was Sue Ellen's alcoholism, and this plays into her decision to drive drunk in a 1983 episode; this will lead to her causing a crash that seriously injures brother-in-law (and Ray Krebbs' nephew) Mickey Trotter.
- Grace Hanadarko in Saving Grace thinks she's hit and killed a guy in her car while drunk driving, but it's really a setup from "last chance angel" Earl to get her to give up her life to God. Turns out that the guy she "hit" is in prison...originally for his own drunk driving.
- The Hogan Family: Midway through the 1987-1988 season (the first one without Valerie Harper as the mother), David hosts a house party while his father Mike and aunt Sandy are gone; his best friend and one of the guests, Rich, gets very drunk and wants to take a stunning co-ed out for a ride. David — having just lost his mother months earlier, purportedly in an accident caused by a drunk driver — puts his foot down and gets into a huge fight with Rich. David, motivated at an earlier admonation to "do whatever you have to do" to keep someone from driving drunk, locks Rich in the closet overnight. When David lets a somewhat sobered-up Rich out the next morning, Rich remembers vividly what happened ... and is an ungrateful jerk! (He yells at David for not letting him consumate that long, sought-after relationship with the supermodel of his senior class. David then reminds him that his mother died in a drunk driving accident, and he couldn't stand the thought of now losing his best friend (not to mention the prettiest girl in high school). Rich eventually comes to his senses and realizes that nothing — not a hot night of sex in bed awaiting a hotel — was worth driving drunk and possibly killing himself or anyone else.
- Full House: In an episode that focused more on Kimmie getting drunk at a college sorority party and an embarrassed D.J. (and equally embarrassed sorority officers) dealing with her drunken behavior, though Kimmie believes that D.J. was just jealous because in her mind she was the life of the party. a tearful D.J. tells Kimmie that her mother had died in an accident caused by a drunk driver (the death happening sometime during the summer of 1987, two months before the first episode was set). Kimmie realizes what could become of her and agrees to straighten up.
- Leticia on Dirty Sexy Money hit Wrenn with her car while drunk driving.
- In Real Life, pretty much every cast member on Lost who has been arrested for drunk driving has "coincidentally" died on the show. Hmmmmmmmmmm.
- Happens to Wheels in the Degrassi High: School's Out movie Series Finale, with the resulting crash killing an infant. He spent the interval between that series and Degrassi: The Next Generation in prison for it.
- Cops in The Wire are regularly shown driving to an out-of-the-way spot to chat and get plastered on beer, then driving home. Major Rawls at one point attempts to get revenge on Detective McNulty by pressuring Detective Santangelo to catch him driving under the influence: Santangelo is dismayed; it is implicit that freedom to drive drunk is an unwritten sacred right for Baltimore police.
- In one of the show's Crowning Moments of Funny, McNulty is driving home drunk, takes a turn too wide and scrapes the side of his car against a freeway support. He stops, gets out, surveys the damage and the scene, and then gets back into the car and reverses around the corner. He then tries to take the turn again and hits the support again.
- There's a non-Anvilicious example in Misfits, where party girl Alisha was a constant drunk driver prior to the show, and continued to drive intoxicated even after getting caught and having her license taken away. She hasn't killed anyone or caused any accidents, but she did eventually get caught by the police (again) and, despite performing oral sex on the breathalyser in an attempt to charm the cop (it didn't work - leading her to surmise that he was "gay"), she was sentenced to community service. Even after this, she's shown driving yet again (not drunk this time though) on at least one occasion, but she doesn't get caught.
- The first season of Boomtown ends with David McNorris entering rehab for his alcoholism after he hears about a man killed in a hit and run accident. Since he was driving drunk at the time, he believes he was responsible. It turns out the victim was actually killed by an Alzheimer's sufferer and David had hit a dog.
- One rather Anvilicious episode of CHiPs ("Wheels Of Justice") had a drunk driver pretend his (sober) wife was driving at the time of his drunk driving accident. He was exonerated when it couldn't be proven he was and she wasn't. He later drives drunk with her again and gets into another accident. This time, she dies.
- Played with in That Mitchell and Webb Look in a sketch about MI6 planning the assassination of Princess Diana on the order of Prince Philip (a popular theory, especially in certain tabloids) by getting the driver "slightly tipsy", as it's a well-known fact that getting somebody a little bit drunk results in an 100% death rate.
- Mad Men had shown this several times, mostly to illustrate the much more casual attitude to drunk driving in The '60s.
- After a drinking a few drinks at a party in Saved by the Bell, Zack and his friends drove drunk and ended up in an accident. Oddly enough, the sober one, Screech, offered to drive but Lisa refused to let him touch the car because he might get into an accident.
- Drunk driving and killing a kid is what got Tobias Beecher sent to Prison in Oz. Given what happens to him there, it may be the most horrifying Don't Drink and Drive Ad ever.
- Played for laughs (sort of) in the Yes, Minister Christmas special "Party Games". The Home Office declares a "don't drink and drive at Christmas" campaign, whose advice a besotted Jim Hacker elects to ignore (despite his wife being sober and willing to drive), leading to a police stop on account of his extremely slow driving and a writeup in the next day's Express describing Hacker as "overwrought as a newt". This turns out to be small potatoes, however, after it turns out that the Home Secretary himself drove drunk, overturning a lorry carrying nuclear waste on the M25 (if memory serves); Sir Humphrey jokes that since the press are saying he was "drunk as a Lord," the Government will almost certainly make him one.
- On Person of Interest a woman drives while drunk and hits a pedestrian. A ruthless gang of criminals takes drastic action to make sure that she does not go to jail. They need her to help them launder millions of dollars of illicit money
- The deaths of the main characters' parents because of a Drunk Driver is the event that starts of Party of Five's plot.
- In the first My Name Is Earl Christmas Episode, Earl and Randy got drunk on Christmas Eve years ago. They determined (after Randy mistook the cat for an RC car) that they weren't safe to drive...but they figured they were OK to bike to the liquor store for more beer. They rode (and totally destroyed) the bikes that were meant for Dodge and Earl Jr. Joy was not pleased.
- Drunk driving acts as the impetus for Uncle Saul to come out on Brothers and Sisters. He had grown depressed over his closeted life and running into a tree while driving drunk was the last straw.
- One of the first people we see Dexter hunt is a serial Drunk Driver who is constantly able to get out of his vehicular manslaughter charges by moving to a new location and changing his name so they cannot connect him to his previous arrests.
- In the 1980s Trauma Center, a completely drunk woman weaves through traffic until she causes a van full of young men to crash off the side, which calls the paramedics to the scene. Fortunately, the cops catch her with a female cop noting that the offender "pickled the breathalyzer."
- On Suits the son of one of the firm's clients hits someone with a car and leaves the scene. The victim dies but there is no evidence that the driver was drinking so Mike is able to get him a nice plea deal where he will serve no jail time. However, Mike then discovers that his client, while not drunk, was actually high on marijuana at the time of the accident. Mike's parents were killed by a drunk driver and he takes it very hard that he helped an impaired driver escape justice for killing someone.
- The Andy Griffith Show - when Otis buys a car, Andy and Barney worry that he'll inevitably be driving drunk (as he's drunk most of the time)...they catch him passed out drunk and when he awakens, they play like he'd died in a crash and can't hear him. It turns out he'd never driven the car and in fact had just sold it, to everyone's relief.
- In one episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, Steve and a companion see a drunkard stumbling through a parking garage, clearly meaning to head home. Steve has his companion go on ahead while the drunk guy is fumbling around, and lifts the guy's back bumper (and presumably drive wheels) off the ground, propping the car on a concrete planter so he can't make any headway. The drunk guy is quite oblivious to his lack of forward motion.
- Clare Kincaid on Law & Order was killed when her stationary car was hit by a drunk driver. The next time Jack got the chance to prosecute a drunk driving case, he conspired to get the culprit the death penalty - by hiding the fact that the driver was drunk. (If the driver was in control of himself and his vehicle the case potentially becomes first degree murder.) His conscience - and Jamie's - won't quite let him go through with it.
- On Sisters, second-oldest sister Teddy is a recovering alcoholic and has fallen off the wagon yet again while grieving the loss of her husband. Initially sympathetic because of the reason she's Off the Wagon, the other sisters and her mother realize she needs serious help when she runs over her nephew while driving drunk (miraculously, he suffers only minor injuries).
- Played quite shamelessly for laughs with the "I'm not pissed" family in The Fast Show. Dad goes to give the boy a ride to school, whereupon the car shoots straight across the road and smashes into a neighbour's parked car. And there the sketch ends.
- The Affair: After a pile-up of misfortunes earlier that day, Helen ends up trying to pick her kids up from school when she's drunk and stoned. She crashes the car and gets arrested after assaulting a police officer. It single-handedly undermines her case for sole custody of her and Noah's children.
- Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "That Smell" is about an automobile accident while drunk.
- Wes McGhee's song "Whiskey Is My Driver".
- Primus' song "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver'' ends with the eponymous character (a thrill-seeking race car driver) possibly dying due to this.
Jerry was a race car driver
22 years old
One too many cold beers one night
And wrapped himself around a telephone pole
- After getting in trouble for public drunkeness, Scott Hall was given a gimmick that amounted to being a sloppy drunk in WCW, which did include at least one crashed car.
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would often be shown riding an ATV after drinking 8 or so Miller Lights. This lead up to Coach in the ring challenging Stone Cold to wrestle him only to learn he had been in an accident.
- Deus Ex: Overlapping with Drunken Master with Jock. The first time you meet him piloting the helicopter, you had just seen him at a bar, getting drinks off of you. JC will attempt to call him out for drinking and flying, but Jock claims that the helicopter is difficult to fly "all wound up."
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has a mission where Tommy has to drive Phil Cassidy to the hospital after a boomshine explosion. Problem is, Tommy is drunk as a result of merely smelling the boomshine. The screen gets blurry and the car randomly swerves to simulate the effects. It's pretty easy to adapt to, though.
- In the fourth game in the series, you can drive after getting plastered. Niko, however, points out this is an extremely bad idea, and you're going to crash A LOT thanks to Interface Screw (the screen already shakes and blurs if you're standing around; now imagine that at about 50-60 mph, with your controls swerving to the side randomly because your character can't even stand still). You're also very likely to be arrested (any police unit that sees you so much as entering a car while drunk will put one star on your wanted gauge).
- Though the GTA IV example is realistic in its presentation (and also giving you no positive advantage), it didn't stop MADD from condemning it, claiming it glorifies drunk driving and makes light of a serious issue.
- Apparently Rockstar listened to them come GTA V. It's pretty much impossible to drive drunk since you sober up in less than a minute. You'll be halfway sober by the time you walk out of the bar, and completely sober by the time you start driving your car. The interface is similar to GTA IV drunk driving for the one second you can drive drunk.
- In The Simpsons, Homer and his buddies go drinking, and drive into the school, thus destroying part of it. This leads to a curfew being put on the children and teens of Springfield, because the police assume it was the work of young vandals - despite the car leaving a clear trail from the school to Homer's front lawn.
- In South Park, Randy Marsh gets arrested for drunk driving and is forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Hey Arnold! ties this in with a recurring Getting Crap Past the Radar routine with Miriam Pataki and her alcoholism. Her daughter's classmates are surprised and worried when she apparently got her driver's license back, and it's casually mentioned in the beginning of another episode that she was starting her community service that morning.
- In the future reality of Futurama a robot can be arrested for his alcohol level being below a legal limit, as Bender was in one episode. (Robots in this series need alcohol to function; if they stop drinking, becoming "sober" is as debilitating for them as intoxication is for humans.)
- All legislatures in the world take drunk driving (or drugged driving) VERY seriously. NEVER attempt to drive drunk! If you must get somewhere while boozed, have someone you know give you a ride, take public transit, or take a cab. More detail is not necessary.
- Russian airlines appear to take a more liberal attitude to alcohol
- More Navy test pilots died driving under the influence than died in plane crashes. This is in part because two time-honored traditions of test pilots were 1) buying extremely powerful sports cars and 2) taking them for a spin in the desert after hitting the bar. (See Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff.)