Study: State Alcohol Laws Affect Drunk Driving Rates

Alcohol laws help discourage drunk drivingThe states have been working hard to fight drunk driving for decades now: the 1970s were when anti-drunk driving campaigning started in earnest. And there’s no doubt that those awareness campaigns have been successful in discouraging drunk driving in this country.

But once everyone is aware that impaired driving is a bad idea, what next? What works to keep bringing down those DUI numbers?

The answer appears to be states’ alcohol policies. A recent study by the Boston University schools of public health and medicine and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health indicates that rates of drunk driving are likely to decline as a state’s alcohol policy toughens up.

According to the report, state governments have two ways to bring down the number of DUI offenses:

  • Drinking-oriented policies: measures to curtail binge drinking, which has a high correlation with drunk driving, as well as alcohol taxation, regulation of production, and restriction of alcohol sales.
  • Driving-oriented policies: measures to combat the crime of drunk driving itself. These can include ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, as well as sobriety checkpoints.

The findings of the study: both methods are needed to discourage impaired driving. In brief, alcohol restrictions discourage people from getting drunk, and driving restrictions discourage them from driving while drunk.

Like many such findings, this one seems obvious now that it’s out in the world. But in fact, legislators do not always agree on the best way to fight drunk driving, and there is a reason that many states get a failing grade in MADD’s ratings for anti-DUI efforts.

Some states do not suspend licenses automatically upon arrest for DUI. Half the country still does not mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders.  And policies are scattered in matters such as breath test refusal.

As we have said before, there is no magic bullet that will end drunk driving. Among the things we know work in part are drunk driving awareness campaigns, ignition interlocks, sobriety courts, and, thanks to this research, thorough and sensible alcohol laws to discourage excessive drinking in general.