• Center for Problem oriented policing

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Summary of Responses to Drunk Driving

The table below summarizes various responses to drunk driving, the mechanisms by which these responses are intended to work, the conditions under which they should work best, and factors that should be considered before a particular response is implemented. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances and that you can justify each response based upon reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve several different responses, because law enforcement alone is seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Response No.


How It Works

Works Best If…





Reducing the legal limit of per se violations

Increases the probability of successful prosecution of drunk driving charges; subjects more dangerous drivers to legal sanctions; communicates societal intolerance for drinking and driving

… reinforced by adequate enforcement at the lower limits

Police officers may be unwilling to enforce if they do not understand the risk of driving at lower limits; enforcement at lower limits will increase the number of cases in the courts


Requiring drivers to submit to blood alcohol testing when arrested for drunk driving

Increases both the certainty of arrest when a stop is made and the probability of successful prosecution; provides drivers with social justification for not drinking

… police have the authority to demand testing of drivers stopped at random

In the United States, police must establish probable cause in order to demand testing


Raising the minimum legal drinking age

Reduces the overall alcohol consumption of inexperienced, high-risk drivers

… enforcement levels are high enough to convince underage drivers that they face a substantial risk of arrest; legislation and enforcement is supported by parents

Strict enforcement can substantially increase court caseloads


Prohibiting open alcohol containers in moving vehicles

Reduces the likelihood that a driver will consume alcohol while driving

… adequately enforced; prohibition applies equally to drivers and passengers

Provides police with additional justification for stopping suspected drunk drivers


Requiring drivers and passengers to wear seat belts

Reduces the risk of serious injury when a crash occurs

… adequately enforced

Some jurisdictions may not authorize police stops solely on the basis of seat belt violations




Increasing the number of police stops of suspected drunk drivers during high-risk times of day

Increases the perceived risk of apprehension among drinking drivers

… police officers have viable alternatives to custodial arrest for some stopped drivers; police officers have sufficient resources to make a high number of stops

Competing priorities for police attention may limit the number of stops officers can realistically make; police officers must believe that their reasonable exercise of discretion in employing alternatives to arrest will be supported


Conducting sobriety checkpoints

Increases the perceived risk of apprehension among drinking drivers

… the public supports the practice; officers are properly trained to detect impaired drivers

Legal requirements must be met; checkpoints should be highly visible to maximize their general deterrent effect; because they can be costly to conduct, checkpoints are not necessarily the most efficient method of stopping drunk drivers


Training police officers to detect impaired drivers

Increases the probability of arrest once a stop is made; increases the likelihood of successful prosecution

… police officers believe that enforcement is valued by the department

Officers should also be trained to detect impairment from substances other than alcohol


Using preliminary breath testing devices

Increases the probability of arrest once a stop is made; increases the likelihood of successful prosecution

… officers are properly trained in their use; can be administered to drivers stopped at random (where legal) or at sobriety checkpoints

Legal requirements for demanding tests must be met; costs to purchase and maintain devices

Curtailing Driving Privileges



Administrative suspension and revocation of driver licenses

Reduces the likelihood that convicted drunk drivers will drive while intoxicated during periods of suspension; deters drivers through threatened loss of driving privileges

… jurisdiction has adequate resources to process cases; suspensions are routinely and promptly imposed by an administrative agency rather than by the courts

Most suspended or revoked drivers continue to drive; high volume of cases arising from operators who drive while suspended or revoked can drain criminal justice resources; the large number of suspended or revoked drivers can increase the volume of police pursuits if drivers attempt to avoid apprehension


Imposing graduated licensing systems for young drivers

Reduces opportunities for inexperienced drivers to drive under high-risk conditions

… legislation and enforcement is supported by parents

Creates hardships for young drivers and their parents


Impounding, immobilizing, or confiscating the vehicles of drunk drivers

Reduces opportunities for convicted drunk drivers to continue driving; deters drivers through threatened loss of driving privileges

… vehicle is actually impounded or immobilized; threats alone are an insufficient deterrent

High costs can be incurred impounding, immobilizing, and storing vehicles; third parties who depend on use of the vehicle are also penalized


Confiscating license plates from convicted drunk drivers

Increases the probability that a convicted driver will be stopped by police

… more widely used and publicized

Specially-marked license plates indicating the vehicle is likely being operated by a convicted drunk driver is a similar alternative

Sanctioning Convicted Drunk Drivers



Requiring convicted drunk drivers to install electronic ignition locks on their vehicles

Prevents intoxicated drivers from operating their vehicles

… alternative sanctions are severe enough to persuade drivers to use the devices; drivers must periodically retest to keep the vehicle running; drivers cannot readily use other vehicles

Deterrent effect not likely to last beyond period when device is installed; minimizes inconvenience to others who are dependent upon the vehicle


Requiring convicted drunk drivers to complete alcohol assessment, counseling, or treatment programs

Reduces alcohol consumption of those convicted of drunk driving

… the treatment program is of high quality and demonstrated effectiveness

Not all drunk drivers benefit from these programs; program costs can be high


Confining convicted drivers to their homes

Reduces opportunities for offenders to continue driving; deters drivers through threatened loss of driving privileges

… monitoring is effective

Electronic monitoring is more efficient than personal monitoring

Monitoring Drunk Drivers



Closely monitoring high-risk drunk drivers

Reduces opportunities for convicted drunk drivers to continue driving

… highest risk drivers are selected for intensive monitoring

Labor intensive

Reducing Alcohol Consumption



Reducing the consumption of alcohol

Reduces intoxication levels of drivers, thereby reducing the risk of vehicle crashes

… reductions in consumption levels are substantial

Public support for measures to reduce consumption may be difficult to obtain in some jurisdictions


Suing alcohol beverage servers for serving intoxicated patrons who then drive and cause traffic injuries

Discourages serving intoxicated patrons, thereby reducing alcohol consumption

… plaintiffs prevail often enough so that alcohol beverage servers perceive their potential liability to be significant; liability results in actual costs to alcohol beverage servers

Some insurance companies cover full costs of liability; some alcohol beverage servers avoid liability by becoming judgment proof; social norms often work against intervening in the drinking habits of others


Training alcohol beverage servers to recognize signs of impairment and enforcing laws prohibiting serving impaired patrons

Reduces the alcohol consumption of potential drunk drivers

… reinforced by the owners of licensed establishments; reinforced by adequate enforcement of alcohol service laws

Mandatory programs have not been shown to be more effective than voluntary ones; compliance with training regulations may provide servers with a defense against liability


Enforcing laws prohibiting serving minors and intoxicated persons

Reduces alcohol consumption of potential drunk drivers

… enforcement is sufficient to create a significant perception of risk among servers; known problem establishments are targeted

Enforcement resources and priorities are often inadequate; enforcement efforts are often resisted by alcohol service industry

Public Education



Discouraging drinking and driving through public education and awareness campaigns

Discourages drinkers from driving and drivers from drinking; builds public support for a wide range of drunk driving countermeasures

… education and awareness messages are carefully targeted to particular audiences

Can be costly to develop and run; difficult to measure effect on behavior

Alternative Transportation



Providing alternative transportation options to drinking drivers

Reduces need for drinkers to drive

… transportation is provided to, from, and among drinking establishments so that drinkers are not compelled to leave their vehicles at a drinking establishment; costs to drinkers are reasonable

Transportation services can be costly to operate

Environmental Design



Locating licensed establishments in areas that reduce the need for patrons to drive

Reduces the need for drinkers to drive

… the public understands and supports locating drinking establishments in certain areas

Less viable in rural areas where driving is almost unavoidable; the public may resist locating bars and taverns near residential areas


Relaxing or staggering mandatory bar closing times

Reduces the concentration of drunk drivers on the road; reduces excessive alcohol consumption at closing time

… bars and taverns are located where drinkers do not need to drive to reach them

Net effects not demonstrated conclusively

Responses With Limited Effectiveness



Increasing the severity of penalties for drunk driving



Typically, certainty of apprehension is too low for severity of penalties to have much deterrent effect; if penalties exceed what police deem fair, they may be less willing to enforce drunk driving laws; raising the stakes of conviction often slows down the adjudication process, thereby undermining deterrence


Incarcerating convicted drunk drivers



Consumes scarce jail resources; threat of incarceration can be effective incentive for alternative sanctions


Fining convicted drunk drivers



High rates of failure to pay fines are typical


Recovering law enforcement costs from convicted drunk drivers



Effects not demonstrated conclusively; high rates of failure to pay are typical


Requiring drunk drivers to listen to victim impact panels



Deterrent effect is short-lived; effectiveness heavily dependent upon skills of speakers, which is difficult to standardize


Prohibiting drive-up alcohol sales



Typically, alcohol can easily be purchased elsewhere


Providing driver education courses in high schools



Encourages more young people to get their licenses, which increases the risk of crashes

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