Drunk Driving: We Can Prevent It

Hard core drunk drivers are responsible for a large proportion of alcohol-related crashes, injuries and fatalities. For their own safety and that of others, it's important to identify such drivers, remove them from the road, provide effective treatment, and bring about behavior change before permitting them to drive again.

About half of all alcohol-related traffic accident fatalities involve drivers with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of about .16 or higher. A significant proportion of such high-BAC drivers are hard core drunk drivers; they repeatedly abuse alcohol and drive while intoxicated. Hard core drunk drivers are a major threat to the safety of themselves and others.

An organization committed to reducing drunk driving, the Century Council, promotes a three-pronged approach to reducing the problem.

  1. Swift Identification. It is important to detect hardcore offenders as early as possible in the progression of their drunk-driving careers. Once identified as hardcore drunk drivers, it is then important to prevent them from driving until fundamental behavior change has occurred.
  2. Certain Punishment. The perception that punishment is certain has much greater deterrent effect than severity of punishment, a fact repeatedly demonstrated by research.
  3. Effective Treatment. Providing effective treatment is essential to reducing hardcore drunk driving because, regardless of the punishment imposed, offenders will eventually begin driving again. The only way to prevent offenders from drinking and driving is treatment that brings about fundamental changes in behavior.

The Century Council advocates comprehensive programs that: 1

  1. Ensure that offenders are charged to the proper level;
  2. Provide prosecutors with accurate and complete information to obtain a conviction;
  3. Assure that sanctions are connected and reinforce each other;
  4. Verify compliance with sentencing terms;
  5. Assist in determining appropriate treatment based on previous record and intervention efforts;
  6. Provide accurate data to detect trends and determine the effectiveness of the overall system.

The organization promotes: 2

  • Sanctions such as dedicated detention facilities, electric monitoring, ignition interlocks, and vehicle impoundment or confiscation
  • Increased fines and vehicle impoundment for driving with a suspended license
  • Accurate and uniform DUI tracking systems
  • Assessment of all individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated
  • Appropriate treatment for all repeat offenders
  • Graduated penalties for drivers with higher BACs

Graph: Relative risk of fatal crash as a function of BACGraduated penalties for higher BACs are long overdue. Currently, drivers who speed 50 miles per hour over the speed limit receive higher penalties than those who speed 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Similarly, drunk drivers with a BAC of .20 should receive higher penalties than those with a BAC of .10 The risk of accidents increases dramatically as the BAC climbs higher and penalties should rise dramatically as well.


  • 1. The Century Council. Looking Back, Moving Forward. Washington, DC: The Century Council, n.d. (booklet). For a free copy of this publication contact the Council at info@centurycouncil.org or call (202) 637-0079.
  • 2. Ibid.

Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)

  • Drinking and driving by teens, impaired driving, DWI, drink driving, traffic crash statistics, and related topics on the subject of drinking, driving, and young people are covered by these readings.
  • Astin, A., et al. The American Freshman: Thirty Year Trends, 1966-1996. Los Angeles, CA: University of California, Higher Education Research Institute, 1997.
  • Benjamin, T. (Ed.). Young Drivers Impaired by Alcohol and Other Drugs. London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987.
  • Berardelli, P. Safe Young Drivers: A Guide for Parents and Teens. McLean, VA: EPM, 1996.
  • Brookhuis, K. A., et al. The effects of mobile telephoning on driving performance. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1991, 23(4), 309-316.
  • Campbell, K. E., et al. Trends in Alcohol-Related Fatal Traffic Accidents. Bethesda, MD: United States Public Health Service, 1996.
  • Catchpole, J. Why are Young Drivers Over-Represented in Traffic Accidents? Vermont, South, Victoria, Australia: Australian Road Research Board, 1994.
  • Doherty, S. T. Young drivers and graduated licensing: the Ontario case. Transportation, 1997, 24(3), 227-251.
  • Donelson, , A. C., et al. The Role of Alcohol in Fatal Traffic Crashes: British Columbia. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Safety Research Foundation, 1989.
  • Duncan, D. F. Chronic drinking, binge drinking, and drunk driving. Psychological Reports, 1987, 80(2), 681.
  • Engs, R. C., and Hanson, D. J. Drinking games and problems related to drinking among moderate and heavy drinkers. Psychological Reports, 1993, 73, 175-181.
  • Frisbie, T. Talking mobile. Traffic Safety, 1991, 91(2), 26-28.
  • Haines, M. P. A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities. Newton, MA: Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, 1996. (This very useful book is available free by calling 1-800-676-1730.)
  • Hans, M. Innovative programs target young drivers. Traffic Safety, 1996, 96(5), 6-9.
  • Hans, M. Graduated licensing: training wheels for young drivers. Traffic Safety, 1996, 96(2), 6-9.
  • Hansen, W. B., and Graham, J. W. Preventing alcohol, marijuana and cigarette use among adolescents. Preventive Medicine, 1991, 20.
  • Hanson, D. J. Alcohol Education: What We Must Do. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
  • Hanson, D. J., and Engs, R. C. The alcohol knowledge and drinking myths of a national sample of university students. Journal of College Student Development, 1989.
  • McGwin, G. Characteristics of traffic crashes among young, middle-aged, and older drivers. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1999, 31(3), 181-198.
  • McKnight, A. J., and McKnight, A. S. The effect of cullular phone use upon driver inattention. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1993, 25(3), 259-265.
  • Milgram, G. G. The Facts about Alcohol. Mount Vernon, NY: Consumers Union, 1990.
  • Moulden, J. V. Alcohol Education: A Long-Term Strategy for Preventing Transportation Accidents. In: Benjamin, T. (Ed.). London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Youth Fatal Crash and Alcohol Facts. Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998.
  • National Commission Against Drunk Driving and Harvard Alcohol Project, Center for Health Communication of Harvard School of Public Health. A Guide to Community-Based Designated Driver Programs.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A Guide to Developing a Community-Based Designated Driver Program. U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Incidence and Role of Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers. Washington, D. C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1993.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts, 1997: Young Adults. Washington, D.C.: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Health. Washington, D. C.: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997.
  • O'Malley, P. M., et al. Alcohol use among adolescents. Alcohol Health & Research World, 1998, 22(2), 85-93.
  • Petica, S. Risks of cellular phone usage in the car and its impact on road safety. Recherche-Transports-Securite, 1993, 37, 45-56.
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: Use, Consequences, and Perceptions of the College Environment. Carbondale, IL: CORE Institute, 1993.
  • Presley, C. A., et al. Alcohol and Drugs on American Campuses: A Report to College Presidents. Carbondale, IL: CORE Institute, 1998.
  • Redelmeier, D. A., and Tibshirani, R. J. Association between cellular telephone calls and motor vehicle collisions. New England Journal of Medicine, 1997, 336(7).
  • Ross, H. L. Confronting Drunk Driving. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
  • Schulenberg, J., et al. Adolescent risk factors for binge drinking during the transition to young adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 1996, 32(4), 654-674.
  • Simpson, H. M., and Mayhew, D. R. The Hard Core Drinking Driver. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Traffic Safety Research Foundation, 1991.
  • Spierer, E. Young Drivers and Alcohol: Educational Measures and Programmes. In: Benjamin, T. Ed.). Young Drivers Impaired by Alcohol and Other Drugs. London and New York: Royal Society of Medicine Services, 1987. Pp. 227-235.
  • Violanti, J. M., et al. Cellular phones and traffic safety. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1996, 28, 265-270.
  • Wechsler, H., et al. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American college students between 1993-1997: Results of the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. Journal of American College Health, 1998, 47, 57-68.
  • Williams, A. F. Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 1985, 100(1), 19-25.
  • Williams, T. P. The Relative Role of Alcohol as a Contributing Factor in the Over-Representation of Young Drivers in Highway Crashes. Albany, NY: New York State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, Bureau of Alcohol and Highway Safety, 1981.


  • Allstate Insurance Co. Young Drivers: The High-Risk Years. (Northbrook, IL: Allstate Insurance Co., 1998. (15 min., col., in.)

filed under: Drinking and Driving