How and How Not to Reduce Drunk Driving Accidents

Virginia is making great strides in cutting the number of drunk driving accidents. The path to success is not a secret: aggressive enforcement.

Virginia officials also cite increased driver education. This is bunk, and everyone knows it. Government officials must get performance incentives for citing education as the cure for everything.reducing drunk driving accidents

Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point underscores how bad this paradigm fails elsewhere. Gladwell cites a study that shows that the average smoker overestimates how many years smoking will take off their lives. Smokers think it will cost them 9 years when the real answer is probably more like 6. Paradoxically, education may make these people less risk-averse to smoking.

The same holds true with drunk driving. Everyone understands who will understand that drunk driving carries a substantial risk of injury and death to the drunk driver and everyone in his path. We don’t really need to come up with a new strategy to explain this axiom to people. We just need to catch and punish those who do drive drunk.

Maryland had 8,804 alcohol or drug-related car accidents in 2009. The strategy to reduce these is simple: arrest the potential drunk driver’s brother-in-law and punish him. The best strategy to stop drunk driving is to make people feel the heat of getting caught and getting punished. You know your brother-in-law drives drunk all the time and never gets caught. That fact is baked into your calculus of whether to say “I’m not driving far, I’ll take a chance.”

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