Drunk Driving Costs Us $71 Billion a Year. Let’s Shift That Cost to…

drunk-driving-costs-71-billionDrunk driving is one of our country’s more expensive habits. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) we spend some $71 billion every year cleaning up the mess that drunk drivers make. That doesn’t even include what the drunk drivers themselves pay, some $51 billion.

The drunk drivers themselves pay fines, court fees, attorney fees, charges for alcohol assessment and treatment, and the costs associated with lost time at work and even lost jobs.

However, the $71 billion that society at large pays includes:

  • Higher insurance fees
  • Taxes to pay for drunk driving prevention and recovery
  • Benefits paid to injured workers
  • Costs to medical services on the scene of the collision
  • Property damage

The 11,000 lives lost each year is immeasurably worse, but these financial costs are felt by a very broad segment of society.

What can be done? One measure that shifts costs where they belong is the ignition interlock. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

In most states, ignition interlocks are mandated for certain DUIs. In 25 states, they are employed for all DUI offenses, including first offenses, for a period of time.

Apart from the obvious advantage of the ignition interlock – that it is the only measure, apart from imprisonment, that actually prevents a drunk driver from taking the wheel and hence reoffending – the devices also shift the cost of preventing DUIs to the actual offender. Typcially, the installation fee and monthly monitoring fee is paid by the person convicted, so society at large is not hit with the bill. The cost of prevention, then, differs vastly from the outcome of a DUI collision, for which everyone pays. It also differs from imprisonment, which is an incredibly costly means of prevention.

States with comprehensive ignition interlock laws generally find that shifting costs to offenders is effective. Statistics show that recidivism during the interlock period is low, and the devices help many with alcohol problems deal with their issues more effectively – they are able to drive to counseling and treatment, keep their jobs, and meet other commitments.

Drunk driving costs so much. Let’s choose a measure that makes those who incur the costs pay to keep it from happening again.