A new approach to DUI

11 Aug

Human beings seem to have a hard wired desire to punish others for their transgressions. This drive might have served our ancestors well in small band level societies, but it sometimes prevents us from thinking clearly about effective social policy. In behavioral psychology we define punishment as a consequence that reduces the probability of a behavior recurring. We know a lot now about what makes punishment effective, or, as often is the case, ineffective.

Generally, our impulse to increase the severity of punishment for bad behavior has little effect on the recurrence of the undesirable behavior. This article in the Washington Post describes a much more productive approach to dealing with a very undesirable behavior, drunken driving.

Many judges across the country order abstinence as part of parole or probation, but Long decided to actually enforce it. Offenders’ drinking was monitored every single day, typically by in-person breath tests in the morning and evening. In contrast to the typically slow and unpredictable ways of the criminal justice system, anyone caught drinking faced a 100 percent chance of arrest and an immediate consequence — typically 12 to 36 hours in jail.

Recent research suggests that this approach is effective:

The results were impressive, with 24/7 Sobriety participants showing up and passing more than 99 percent of scheduled breathalyzer tests. With alcohol removed from their lives, 24/7 Sobriety participants were less likely to be re-arrested for any offense one year, two years and three years after their initial arrest. The latter two periods are particularly impressive in that individuals were typically on 24/7 Sobriety for less than a year, indicating that the benefits persisted after the program stopped. This is a favorable contrast to alcohol ignition interlocks, which typically reduce drunken driving only for the limited time they are in place on an offender’s vehicle.

Many offenders in the program had served extensive time in jail and prison, so why were they deterred by the prospect of a single night in jail? Midgette emphasizes the typical time horizon of the population, noting that “because heavy drinkers tend to heavily discount the future, deterrence depends much more on the certainty and swiftness of a sanction than its severity.”

7 Responses to “A new approach to DUI”

  1. Enrique Guerra-Pujol August 11, 2017 at 11:24 pm #

    File under: Empirical demonstration of the ideas of Cessare Beccaria.

  2. Kathy H August 12, 2017 at 10:53 am #

    I like this approach to for drunk driving. This works because of the unique nature of the crime and this approach may also work for drug offenses. But this approach does not fit for other types of crimes such a theft, murder, etc.

    • jecgenovese August 13, 2017 at 9:01 am #

      Actually, it might fit some other types of crimes as well. See the work of sociologist Mark Kleiman:

    • Coping November 6, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

      I agree. This certainly is a unique crime. I can’t think of any other law in a first world country that has the cruel consequences, human rights violations or ripple effects afterward quite like a DUI.

      • Kathy H November 8, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

        The consequences have to be severe. A DUI is not a victimless crime. I personally know two separate incidences of people whose lives were forever tragically affected by drunk drivers driving the wrong way on the highway. I am for anything that gets people to stop drinking and driving. But I am certainly not opposed to taking away drives licenses or throwing people in jail for a long long long time for this crime.

  3. Dan U. Ian September 15, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    For what it’s worth, there has been a 67% decrease in drunk driving arrests in states that require an interlock period for the first offense. I think this shows that the interlock is effective in correcting behavior in those first time offenders who may not necessarily have a drinking problem. Many people do not want to go through the hassle, embarassment and expense of their interlock period ever again, and are also trained to understand better how their body processes alcohol so they never make the mistake again.

    It does seem that those who go on to become 2x (or more) offenders are typically those who have drinking/social/behavior problems, and need to be forced away from alcohol through a program like this. I have a co-worker who is on his third offense, has a three year court prohibition from drinking, and is going through almost 40 weeks of state mandated treatment, yet continues to drink as if there is no consequence. He justifies it by saying he is not driving anyway right now, so why stop drinking? Yet he hasn’t had a valid license since his first offense, and has managed to get behind the wheel and get caught twice since. He’ll likely end up back behind the wheel at some point, as he becomes more comfortable and arrogant as time goes by. That’s the type of offender this program is made for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: