Saturday, June 1, 2013

Solving the drunk driver problem

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended all states lower the legal blood-alcohol content (BAC) from 0.08 to 0.05.

The NTSB offers two arguments. One, statistics show that people with a BAC of 0.05 percent are 38 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than those who have not been drinking. People with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent are 169 percent more likely.
Second, the standard in most of the industrialized world is 0.05 percent. The blood-alcohol level was reduced to 0.08 in the all states. Wyoming switched to 0.08 percent only after Congress enacted legislation that withheld highway construction money from states that didn’t adopt that standard.

Given the make-up of the Congress, it’s unlikely they would enact such coercive measures. Given the inclinations of the Wyoming legislature, it wouldn’t matter if Congress did. The real question is whether further reducing the legal limit is the best way to reduce alcohol related highway deaths. Poignantly, even a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the most outspoken organization seeking a reduction in drunk driving, was lukewarm to the idea.

He told the press the 0.05 proposal “was the safety board’s (way of) trying to focus on a group of people who are more social drinkers, who haven’t been targeted in a while.” He said that while MADD would not oppose the change it would pursue other remedies.

That’s exactly what legislators should do. If the states don’t do a better job of taking drunks off the road, support for the NTSB proposal will only increase.

Drunk driving remains a problem that cannot be solved by constantly increasing the penalties. Harsher sentences have never been shown to cure the addiction behind nearly all the arrests and serious accidents. But social drinkers with .05 blood alcohol content aren’t the problem.

A recent survey of DUI arrests for in Wyoming makes that case. The average BAC reported for persons arrested for driving under the influence was 0.1529, more than 3 times the NTSB recommendation.  Forty-five percent of those persons arrested for driving under the influence had an average blood alcohol content above 0.16, the average BAC reported for 404 traffic crashes that involved alcohol was 0.1628. (“Wyoming Alcohol Use Issues Survey-2006
 Wyoming’s problem isn’t the social drinker, but the heavy drinker who is most likely addicted to alcohol and unable to control their drinking. Effective strategies include increasing the likelihood that drunk drivers will be caught and making sure that when they are, they receive intense supervision and treatment. Polls show Wyoming voters support many of those strategies.
A 2012 University of Wyoming survey, indicated 55% felt that roadside sobriety checkpoints would be very or somewhat effective in reducing drinking and driving in their communities, over two-thirds (68.6%) of Wyoming residents say they would support (strongly or somewhat support) a tax increase in this case, and 64.3% prohibit selling or serving alcohol to someone who is obviously intoxicated.
Wyoming law currently gives civil immunity to bars that sell more booze to already intoxicated customers even when those customer stagger out the door, drive away and kill innocent people while driving intoxicated. Repeal of that immunity would be a powerful disincentive to serve customers to the point of intoxication.
Finally, the state should require all courts handling DUI cases to use those strategies proven to work in Laramie County’s DUI Court. By requiring treatment coupled with frequent testing, intense supervision, ignition lock devices and other monitoring, the Laramie County DUI Court has proved successful in changing the lives of many people who have a long string of DUI arrests and other risky, alcohol related behaviors.
Budget cuts threaten the future of these programs but they have a proven record, demonstrating outcomes making them a far more effective alternative to reducing drunk driving than either increasing the length of sentences or reducing the blood alcohol content level.
Instead of targeting social drinkers or further adding years to mandatory sentences, legislators should support research-based strategies with proven results.


  1. You have some interesting points. However, we should look at some more stats.

    In 2012, there were 13,893 crashes reported in Wyoming. Of those, 971 involved alcohol. If you look at the fatal crashes, of the 109 fatal crashes in 2012, 41 involved alcohol. Obviously a much larger percentage. However, our percentage of alcohol-related crashes has been steady to falling for the past several years. In 2008, it was 47 percent (fatal crashes/fatal crashes alcohol-related) and in 2012, it was 38 percent. In injury crashes the percentage of those involving alcohol has been steady at about 14 percent.

    Let's not forget here are always a number of other contributing factors to any crash such as speed, lack of wearing seat belts, road conditions, weather, car condition, etc.

    Lack of seat belt use is a far greater cause of death in Wyoming than driving drunk. Our number 1 way to die in a vehicle in Wyoming: A young male driving who isn't wearing a seat belt and rolls his vehicle. That death rate is over 90 percent.

    Now, I'm not totally against lowering the BAC, but to what limit? If it's o.o5, then why not go all of the way? 1 drink? Install interlock devices in all vehicles? At what point do we stop? I'm also not a big fan of "the standard of the rest of the world ..." so we must do it argument. We're not the rest of the world and our problems and solutions are not that easily generalized.

    Additionally, surveys tend to quantify feelings and emotions, not facts or even what programs would or would not work. Not a big fan of citing those. And to hold bars accountable? That's fine, but at what point does the burden and responsibility lie upon the person drinking? Some states go so far as to hold the server personally responsible (Missouri comes to mind).

    However, people handle their alcohol differently and I am not a fan of holding a server responsible - effectively ruining their life - for the mistake of an idiot who takes to the wheel drunk. Drunk driving is certainly a choice, but not a choice to be laid in the lap of someone who may not have the education to discern who is over the limit and who is not, especially when you lower that limit to a drink or two.

    As you pointed out, the average BAC for someone involved in a alcohol-related crash is over twice to nearly three times the legal limit. So would lowering the BAC limit actually do any good? If people aren't paying attention to the law now, how is it more effective to lower the limit?

    This is and has always been a complex issue. We forget driving is a privilege, not a right, however, we've designed our world to be primarily accessible by car. We set standards and laws, then apologize for people who break them. So, we make them tougher, which in turn oppresses everyone.

    Driving drunk has been an issue since the car was invented. Tougher laws haven't worked. Increased enforcement hasn't worked. Education hasn't worked. Prohibition didn't work. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the driver. Interesting thoughts you've presented and certainly ones that have made me think as well. Thanks!

  2. This rule should be strictly implemented..There are other innocents that are being involved in such accidents involving drunk drivers like a friend who works as an atlanta it support,good thing he wasn't hurt that bad.This is one of the major national problem that the government should really have a strict policy/rule to impose on.