Is Stopping Drunk Drivers a Waste of Police Officers’ Time?

Recently a drunk driver hit the news in Pennsylvania, not because of what she did but because of what she said. Having been pulled over for speeding and then slamming
on the brakes – a standard indicator that police use to spot intoxicated drivers – the woman told her arresting officers, “You all (are) rookies. Go take care of someone that’s getting robbed and do your job by keeping people from getting murdered.”

Police-Patrol-DUIThe implication is that the DUI arrest was a distraction from real police work – arresting robbers and murderers.

We probably shouldn’t put too much stock in what a drunk driver says to her arresting officer, but it’s true that some people think that stopping drunk drivers should not be a priority for law enforcement. Impaired or not, a good number of drivers who are detained under suspicion of DUI, or at a DUI checkpoint, think they are being picked on, and that the police are wasting time. Presumably they should be out preventing murders.

But consider this: in 2013 (a year for which stats are easily available), there were 594 murders in Pennsylvania, and 1208 road fatalites. And while less than 400 of those were due to drinking, there were more than 11,000 alcohol-related vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania in that year. Crashes in which alcohol are involved are almost five times more likely to result in death than crashes in which alcohol is not a factor.

Still think stopping drunk drivers is a waste of police time?

Finally, we must note that death and injury resulting from drunk driving is completely preventable, and the efforts of organizations, educators and the police have helped bring down the numbers dramatically. The use of ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, has also helped reduce recidivism. It’s hard to think of public initiatives that can cut down the rates of other crimes so drastically.

So the police are doing the right thing by arresting drunk drivers. And if this still bothers you, there’s an easy way to avoid the whole issue: drink, or drive, but never do both.