Focus on hardcore drunk drivers, not responsible citizens

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), this Labor Day weekend may be the deadliest on record since 2008. The NSC estimates that 421 people will be killed and another 48,400 people injured on U.S. roads during the upcoming holiday weekend — 11 percentage points above the holiday’s average.

It’s a reminder that many of the policies aimed at reducing traffic fatalities are not working.

In response to the predicted carnage, law enforcement and other traffic safety officials are rightly attempting to mitigate traffic deaths by implementing “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” initiatives designed to educate the public on the dangers of drunk driving.

But education programs are not the only tactic that traffic safety officials have experimented with to combat drunk driving. Some examples include the mandated installation of ignition interlock devices (IID) in every DUI offender’s vehicle, the consideration of lowering the nationally recognized blood-alcohol arrest threshold of .08 to .05, and the strategy commonly used on holiday weekends — sobriety checkpoints.

While some traffic safety officials claim that these strategies reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road, it doesn’t mean they are actually effective. In fact, many of these tactics are heavily flawed and only act as an impediment to truly solving the drunk driving problem.

For instance, it has been proven that if enforced correctly, the installation of IIDs in the vehicles of DUI offenders does stop them from driving. However, when this policy is applied to all DUI offenders, instead of targeted at high-BAC and repeat offenders, effective enforcement becomes too costly for state budgets to accommodate. This leaves the hardcore drunk drivers — who cause 70 percent of alcohol-involved traffic fatalities — out on the roads with insufficient supervision to ensure they aren’t starting the engine after a long night of drinking.

It’s a problem of spreading limited resources too thinly.

Lowering the BAC arrest level from .08 to .05, a law recently passed in the state of Utah, is also counterproductive in the fight against drunk driving. It is scientifically proven that having a .05 BAC is less dangerous than talking on a hands-free cellphone or being over the age of 65 while driving.

Only 1 percent of traffic fatalities involve a driver with a BAC between .08 and .05. So when policymakers group these responsible drinkers — who have had little more than a single drink —with problem drinkers, traffic safety resources are wasted focusing on moderate consumers and diverted from legitimately dangerous drunk drivers.

This pattern of using counterproductive tactics includes sobriety checkpoints. Yes, these roadblocks do sometimes catch a drunk driver or two, nut only after stopping hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicles to do so.

The dismal success ratio is not surprising because checkpoints are easily evaded. Not only are the locations widely publicized beforehand through newspapers, television stations, and newer platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but they cause traffic jams that can be seen from far away. This, along with the flashing lights from police cars, makes it very easy for drivers who have had too much to drink to take an alternate route home.

There are solutions. Our states and municipalities have the resources to confront the problem by focusing resources and personnel on the hardcore drunk drivers who actually kill people and to actively target them through saturation and roving patrols — not passively waiting for them to roll through a stationary checkpoint.

Policymakers and traffic safety officials should re-evaluate which strategies actually lead to reduced traffic fatalities and deploy limited traffic safety resources effectively. If so, all of us can enjoy a safer time on the roads.

Jackson Shedelbower is the communications director of the American Beverage Institute.

 

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