ABI: War on Drunk Driving Has Changed, But Strategies to Address it Have Not

January 12, 2005

As the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation audits Federal and state efforts to reduce alcohol-related injuries and fatalities, The American Beverage Institute (ABI) has issued a letter to members of Congress strongly urging a shift of focus to what it says is the true cause of today’s drunk driving problem.

The DOT audit was demanded by a congressional committee because, according to a Dec. 14 memo, “2003 was the sixth consecutive year with no discernable progress in reducing alcohol
related crashes and fatalities.”

“ABI has long supported effective efforts to combat drunk driving and
alcohol abuse. In recent years, we too have grown increasingly concerned that the fight against drunk driving has stalled,” wrote ABI executive director John Doyle to select House and Senate members. “In requesting this audit, Congress is signaling its intention to address the problem of drunk driving in a more effective way. With the approaching reauthorization of the highway bill, this is a good time to refocus our strategies.”

Today’s problem is “by far and away” made up of “those who have alcohol use disorders,” according to Jeffrey Runge, administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In fact, NHTSA data reportedly shows that the average driver in an alcohol-related fatality has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.16% – twice the legal limit.

“While the problem at the root of drunk driving has changed, our
strategies to address it have not. Unfortunately, instead of focusing efforts on the chronic drunk drivers, many in the traffic safety community are targeting the millions of responsible Americans who choose to drink responsibly before driving with expensive PR campaigns, lower drunk driving arrest thresholds, and sweeping roadblocks,” Doyle further noted in his letter to congress.

Over the recent holiday season, law enforcement reportedly spent millions of dollars and deployed countless man-hours on roadblock campaigns. Early reports from around the nation reportedly indicate that the operations yielded minimal arrests.

An explanation for these low drunk driving arrests can reportedly be found in a landmark government study of roadblocks conducted by NHTSA which found that drunk drivers actually “used their knowledge of checkpoints to avoid arrest by selecting alternate routes.” They also determined that roving patrols, which roam highways in search of erratic and aggressive drivers, were considerably more effective at nabbing drunk drivers than roadblock campaigns.

“[T]he number of DWI arrests made by the roving patrol program was nearly three times the average number of DWIs made by the checkpoint programs,” NHTSA reported. “If making a large number of DWI arrests is an objective of a program, [the data] clearly suggests that roving patrols would be the preferred option.”

“Roadblocks, lower arrest thresholds, and red-ribbon campaigns are not going to change the behavior of chronic drunk drivers,” Doyle said. “The experience of the last six years shows that these measures serve only to intimidate responsible adults and do little to save lives. Worse, they divert funds and attention from the core mission of getting drunk drivers off the road.”

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