Drinking and Driving Solutions: Reducing Drunk Driving.

Drinking and driving while either impaired or drunk is dangerous. Drivers with high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) are at much greater risk of traffic crashes. Thus more injuries and deaths.


I.   The Problem

II.  Facts

III. Possible Preventions

      A. Solutions

      B. Possible Solutions

      C. Of Little Value

IV. Often Overlooke

      A. Drugged Driving

       B. Distracted Driving

V.   Resources

I. The Problem: Drinking and Driving

Every single injury and death caused by drunk driving is preventable. In fact, the proportion of alcohol-impaired driving crashes has dropped greatly over time.

But there are still far too many such crashes. We’ve made great progress. Yet alcohol impaired driving remains a serious problem. It tragically effects many victims and their families each year.

drinking and driving
Harrison, Milagros, and Daniel.

It’s all too easy to forget that statistics refer to real people. Therefore, this page is dedicated to a grandfather and his three grandchildren. They were all killed by a drunk driver. Family and friends deeply mourn their needless deaths.

II. Facts about Drinking and Driving

drinking and drivingMost drivers who have had something to drink have a low BAC. Yet few have fatal crashes. Only a few drivers have BACs higher than 0.15.

But the risk of death from drinking and driving escalates with BAC. And it does so greatly. Over two-thirds of alcohol-related traffic deaths involve a driver with a BAC over 0.15.1

High BAC drivers are more likely to be male and aged 25-35. Also, they often have a history of DWI and drug abuse.

III. Possible Prevention

Possible prevention measures include these, among many others.

drinking and driving
Don’t be fooled. Standard drinks have the same amount of pure alcohol! They’re all the same to a breathalyzer.
    • License suspention or revocation.
    • License plate confiscation.
    • Vehicles impoundment.
    • Open container bans.
    • Increased penalties for drunk driving.
    • Required alcohol education.
    • Enforcement of seat belt laws.
    • Greater use of Designated Drivers.

A. Solutions for Reducing Drinking and Driving

Alcohol-impaired drinking and driving resists simple solutions. But there are many actions that could contribute to reducing the problem.

    • DWI courts are effective in reducing impaired drinking. They work with hard-core repeat offenders. They do so by treating alcohol addiction. The failure rate of DWI and DUI courts is very low.24
    • The single most effective way to reduce drunk driving is automatic license revocation.2
    • Automatic license revocation along with required jail appears to be even more effective.3
    • Confiscating license plates.4
    • Requiring ignition interlock devices. They prevent persons with alcohol on their breath from starting a vehicle.5
    • drinking and drivingVehicle impoundment.6
    • Expanding alcohol server training programs.7
    • Using social norms programs. They correct the false belief that most people sometimes drive under the influence of alcohol.8
    • Requiring alcohol testing in fatal crashes. That would help convict drunk drivers.

Improved roads

Raised lane markers are easier to see. Corrugations along the edges of roads make a sound when driven over. This alerts inattentive drivers.

Other cost-effective improvements can save lives. They include wider roads and improved street and highway lighting. Also break-away sign posts.

Improved Vehicles

Improvements in vehicles include brake lights at eye level, door crash bars, and many computer-assisted features.

 B. Promising but Inadequately Evaluated Measures

    • Distinctive license plate marking for an alcohol offense.10
    • Bans on open containers in vehicles.11 (Not all states have these.)12
    • Tiered penalties based on BAC level.13 Typically used for speeding.
    • Restricted nighttime driving by young people. This appears to be effective in those states with such restrictions.14
    • Electronic monitoring of repeat DWI offenders.15
    • Involve drivers in reporting drunk drivers. They can dial 911 on their cell phones. See Help Police Stop Drunken Drivers.
    • Educate prospective drivers on alcohol and driving. Then test knowledge on driver’s exams.

We need to evaluate all of these very promising measures. This would determine their effectiveness.

C. Measures of Little or No Value.

    • Jail sentences for alcohol offenses. This is a popular policy. But it’s of little value in deterring high BAC drivers.16 In short, it appears that we can’t “jail our way out of the problem.”17
    • The perception of swift and certain punishment is more important than severity.18 Stricter laws and large fines appear to have little deterrent effect.19
    • Increasing the cost of alcohol would have virtually no impact on reducing drunk driving.20 Both research and common sense suggest this. Cost doesn’t deter heavy drinkers. And most minors don’t buy their drinks.

The Good News

We can do it! We have already done a great deal. Of course, we must do even more to reduce drunk driving. The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per 100,000 population has greatly dropped. It’s over two-thirds less since 1982. Other measures of the problem are similar. So we’re clearly winning the battle against alcohol-related traffic deaths.

We can and must do even better.

drinking and drivingAbove all, never drive if you, or anyone else, thinks that you may have had too much to drink. And don’t let anyone else. That includes reporting drivers who appear drunk. It’s always safest not to drink and drive. So use a Designated Driver.

IV. Often Overlooked

People well know the dangers of drinking and driving. But often overlooked are two other major traffic safety problems. Drugged driving is one. While the other is distracted driving. These may now account for even more deaths than drunk driving.Drinking and driving

MADD founder Candace (Candy) Lightner formed We Save Lives.  It focuses on all of the three Ds. That is, Drunk, Drugged, and Distracted driving.

A. Drugged Driving

Studies have looked at drivers stopped for erratic driving, involved in a crash, or killed in a crash. Over one-third had at least one drug in their bodies. Also, many were under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.21

Surveys report a large increase in drugged drivers over a seven year period. (On the other hand, those with alcohol in their blood dropped by almost one-third during the period.)22

B. Distracted Driving

At any moment during daylight, about 660,000 drivers in the U.S. are using an electronic device. A total of 421,000 people in a recent year were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. Thousands died.23 And the problem continues to get worse.

V. Resources: Drinking and Driving

Popular Readings

Scholarly Reading


    1. Nat Acad Sci. Getting to Zero Alcohol-impaired Driving Fatalities.
    2. Nat High Safe Admin (NHTSA).  Countermeasures That Work – Alcohol-Impaired Driving.
    3. Ibid.
    4. CDC. License Plate Impoundment.
    5. Countermeasures That Work – Alcohol-Impaired Driving
    6. NHTSA. Evaluation Of Vehicle Impoundment.
    7. Fell, J. Approaches for Reducing Alcohol-Impaired Driving. In Jones, A. et al (eds). Alcohol, Drugs, and Impaired Driving
    8. Pribble, J., et al. A social norms strategy to reduce impaired driving.  Ann Emerg Med, 48(6), 739.
    9. Brady, J., et al. Effectiveness of mandatory alcohol testing programs.  Am J Epid170(6), 775-82.
    10. NHTSA. Vehicle and License Plate Sanctions. DOT HS 810 880.
    11. Cathey, J. The Effects of Alcohol Regulation and Legislation. 
    12. Nat. Conf. State Leg. Open Container and Open Consumption of Alcohol State Statutes.
    13. Voas, R. and Fisher, D. Court Procedures for Handling Intoxicated Drivers.
    14. Monash U. Night Driving Restriction Reduces Young Driver Crashes.
    15. Voas and Fisher, ibid.
    16. Homel, R. Policing and Punishing the Drinking Driver.
    17. Lock ‘Em Up. Is Jail Really the Best Deterrent to Drunk Driving? 
    18.  Ibid.
    19. Wright, N. and Lee, L. Alcohol-related traffic laws and drunk-driving fatal accidents. Acc Anal Prev,161.
    20. McClelland, R. and Iselin, J. State Alcohol Excise Taxes May Have Little Effect on Drunk Driving Fatalities.
    21. NIDA. Drugged Driving.
    22. NHTSA. Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. DOT 812 118.
    23. StopDistractions.org. Also Bock, O. et al. Distracting tasks have persisting effects on drivers’ braking performance. Acc Anal Prev161.
    24. Petrucci, C. DWI Courts. Ch 3 in Ahlin, E. and Douds, A. (eds.) Taking Problem-solving Courts to Scale, 53-72.