The Research is In: Traffic Stops and Arrests Discourage Drunk Driving Overall

We usually consider DUI arrests a necessary but regrettable part of the campaign against drunk driving: having failed at prevention, we must arrest violators. But now we know that these arrests have a function beyond ridding the roads of individual DUI offenders. They are proven to prevent drunk driving in the population at large.

Traffic StopPacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (PIRE) has published a study which shows that the more resources a community puts into arresting drunk drivers and stopping traffic violators, the less likely people are to drink and drive overall.

Scientists at PIRE studied 30 communities, noting how many DUI arrests were made as a percentage of total population, and also how many drivers were stopped for speeding and other violations.

The results: drivers who were in communities with fewer than 228 stops per 10,000 population were 2.4 times more likely to have some alcohol in their system, and 3.8 times more likely to have a BAC over .08, the legal standard for drunkenness.

Similarly, communities with fewer than 3.7 DUI arrests per 10,000 population had many more drunk drivers on the roads. There are two reasons for this change in behavior:

  • Visibility. When drivers see cars pulled over to the side of the road by police, they realize that they might be next, and adjust their behavior accordingly. That means they reduce speed, drive a little less aggressively, and are less likely to drink and drive. The sight of those flashing lights is a memorable one.
  • Word of Mouth. When DUI arrests are made, the word spreads. People’s decisions are influenced by what happens to family, friends, and even friends of friends.The upshot is that they know that arrests are really being made.

handcuffs-While the idea that traffic stops and arrests get the attention of all drivers seems obvious, few realize how powerful the message really is. Law enforcement now know that their efforts to catch drunk drivers have a social impact much larger than the arrests they make. A traffic checkpoint that catches three impaired drivers might also prevent a thousand.

We hope that state governments pay attention to this study — it contains information on how to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths in the US. Our thanks to PIRE for undertaking and publicizing this invaluable research.