Do Dead Bodies and Other Scare Tactics Prevent Drunk Driving?

morgue visit to prevent duiThe world of drunk driving is a laboratory, and the subjects are constantly under study. The questions we’re trying to answer are:

  • Why do people decide to drive drunk?
  • Why do some people continue to drive drunk even after they’ve been punished?
  • What measures would prevent them from repeating that bad decision?

It’s the job of the courts to ask and answer the third question. A very standard answer is punishment: fines and jail. The idea is to make the consequences costly and unpleasant enough so that people will stop doing it. Unfortunately, the number of repeat drunk drivers out there puts the lie to the assumption that punishment is sufficient.

Another approach has gotten some press recently: making DUI offenders visit the local morgue.

The idea is that drunk driving offenders are “confronted with the fatal consequence of risky choices.” Seeing where bodies of DUI victims are processed constitutes a “reality check” that will lead to healthier choices.

What put the morgue visit concept into the news is the announcement that the Thailand federal government has ordered all repeat drunk drivers to work in morgues, where they can see the actual damage their behavior leads to.

In truth, Thailand’s solution is more extreme than the type of morgue visit that is are promoted in the States. In the latter case an offender won’t encounter an actual corpse, though sometimes horrific photos of DUI collisions are shown.

So – do these scare tactics work? There doesn’t seem to be data to confirm or discredit the practice. Drunk driving recidivism is a persistent problem, and until the introduction of one of these programs can be linked to a statistical drop in repeat DUIs, all we can say is it feels right.

And that’s why we should be wary. A lot of the measures that “feel right” don’t work, most notably license suspension. Half to three-fourths of suspended drivers will ignore their suspension and continue to drive –and that is a real statistic.

What Does Work: Ignition Interlocks

So apart from punishments and scare tactics, let’s not forget the measure that is proven to prevent repeat drunk driving, by disabling a vehicle when the driver has been drinking: ignition interlocks. MADD reports that some 3  million occurrences of drunk driving have been stopped by ignition interlocks – all of them repeat offenses.

So the best approach is not punishment or a “feel-good” solution, but interception. Shut off the car, and the driver will not drive while drunk. With that out of the way, we can address the alcohol dependency issues and other matters that are part of an offender’s problem.

There’s always more to learn about the pervasive problem of drunk driving, but we should be using the solution that has already been proven statistically to reduce DUI recidivism – not a “feel –good” solution, but one that is just plain good.