Dry Counties Have Higher DWI Fatality Rates

Another study has found that alcohol prohibition (dry) counties have higher rates of alcohol-related traffic fatalities than do wet counties.

A study of all counties in Arkansas has reported dry counties to have higher alcohol-related fatalities than wet counties throughout the state. Wet and dry counties are often adjacent, which means that alcohol beverage sales outlets are often located immediately across county or even state lines.

One newspaper reported that in the state’s northwest corner bordering Missouri “on a recent Friday evening, more than nine out of very 10 cars rolling into liquor megastore Macadoodles had Arkansas license plates. In one hour, 182 Arkansas plates were counted. There were 16 Missouri plates during that time period.“ Another newspaper reported that in central Arkansas “when an area is dry, it means a drive across the county line, and sometimes several county lines, to reach an oasis….”

The finding that Arkansas’ dry counties have a higher proportion of alcohol-related traffic crashes is consistent with research elsewhere. For example, a study of about 39,000 alcohol-related traffic accidents in Kentucky found that residents of dry counties are more likely to be involved in such crashes, possibly because they have to drive farther from their homes to consume alcohol, thus increasing impaired driving exposure (Schulte et al., 2003).

Other researchers have pointed to the same phenomenon. Winn and Giacopassi (1993) observed that residents of wet counties most likely have “shorter distances [to travel] between home and drinking establishments.“ From their study, Schulte and colleagues concluded that in dry counties “individuals are driving farther under the influence of alcohol, thus increasing their exposure to crashes.”

It would appear that however well-intentioned, county alcohol prohibition does not prevent residents from consuming alcoholic beverages, contributes to alcohol-related traffic deaths, and deprives residents of tax revenues lost to wet counties.



  • Combs, H. Jason. The wet-dry issue in Arkansas. The Pennsylvania Geographer, 2005, 43(2), 66-94; Schulte, G., et al. Consideration of driver home county prohibition and alcohol-related vehicle crashes. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 1993, 35(5), 641-648; Winn, Russell and Giacopassi, David. Effects of county-level alcohol prohibition on motor vehicle accidents. Social Science Quarterly, 1993, 74, 783-792.

Filed Under: Drinking and Driving

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