Health and Medicine

Police Sobriety Checkpoints More Effective at Reducing Drunk Driving than Increased Penalties

drunk driving

More than 10,000 deaths are caused in the United States per year by driving while impaired (DWI).

Although the traditional response to DWI has always been enforcing criminal sanctions, the success of this method has not been consistent. A new study looked at reducing the frequency of DWI through risk perceptions, in other words, whether the threat of being detained for DWI would discourage people from engaging in this behavior.

Survey data collected from police, individual drivers and defense attorneys specializing in DWI in eight U.S. cities was examined. Two measures were compared to determine which would deter alcohol impaired driving more effectively: harsher penalties for DWI, or the threat of being apprehended for DWI.

Individual perceptions of DWI penalties were unrelated to their reports of future or current alcohol-impaired driving. Conversely, individuals reported that their perceiving a greater chance of being pulled over for DWI would corresponded to less alcohol-impaired driving on their part. The authors conclude that increasing the certainty of arrest by increasing police staffing and / or conducting more sobriety checks could possibly be more effective in decreasing alcohol impaired driving than legislating bigger penalties.

Study has been featured in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.