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Study Finds Better Enforcement Can Deter Drunk Driving

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Police trooper writing a ticket

Police trooper writing a ticket

States whose police make randomized traffic stops and make DUI arrests have fewer drunk drivers on their roads, according to a new study, as Alan Mozes reports for HealthDay in an article appearing on U.S. News & World Report. Mozes quotes James Fell, lead author of the study, as saying: “Hardly any new laws are being passed regarding drinking and driving, so we think the best strategy for making progress on reducing impaired driving could be better enforcement of the laws we already have.”

An abstract of the study, published online in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Researchsays the researchers started with the question: “How much of a reduction in drinking and driving would be achieved by how much improvement in enforcement intensity?” Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, told Mozes that the findings of this study reinforce previous studies showing that high-visibility enforcement along with strong public-awareness messages work to discourage drunk driving. Mozes quotes her as saying, “People only change their behavior when they think they’re going to get caught. When it comes to drunk driving you need to use the stick more than the carrot.”

The new study looked at data from the 2007 National Roadside Survey, in which researchers focused on almost 6,900 nighttime weekend drivers in 30 communities, all of whom were stopped and screened for blood alcohol levels, Mozes writes. The study found that those states with a higher annual number of randomized traffic stops and DUI arrests had a lower annual rate of drunk drivingMozes writes:

In states where the likelihood of being randomly stopped on the road fell below 228 for every 10,000 adult drivers, the odds for randomly recording an illegal blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more were nearly four times greater than in states that performed 1,275 traffic stops per 10,000 drivers, the researchers reported.

The study did not find lower rates of drunk driving in states with more numerous “saturation patrols,” in which police look for weaving and speeding (typical indications of drunk driving), Mozes writes. Nor did the researchers find lower rates of drunk driving to be associated with greater general traffic enforcement, such as the number of tickets police issued for speeding, driving without a seat belt, and/or moving violations.

In addition, the researchers did not “attest to” how effective sobriety checkpoints are in reducing drunk driving. Mozes notes that sobriety checkpoints are “clearly marked” roadside stops in which officials are looking for impaired drivers, as opposed to the random stops that drivers are not expecting. “And no link could be drawn between states with more police officers per resident and fewer drunk drivers,” Mozes writes.

The abstract says the study’s findings could help law enforcement agencies across the United States increase their traffic enforcement intensity to reduce impaired driving. The study’s authors include James C. Fell, Geetha Waehrer, Robert B. Voas, Amy Auld-Owens, Katherine Carr, and Karen Pell.

In Colorado, more than 26,000 people are arrested each year for DUI, and more than 150 people are killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Colorado has a high visibility enforcement campaign called “The Heat is On,” which couples increased DUI enforcement with heightened public awareness during 12 enforcement periods annually. One of the campaign’s features is a free iPhone app  and Android app called R U Buzzed that lets drivers calculate their blood alcohol level and makes it easy to call a cab.

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