Impaired drivers need ‘holistic’ punishment, researchers say

Highway safety officials are calling for a new, holistic approach to punish those who drive under the influence of alcohol and to treating the underlying factors that prompt their behavior.

A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association released Monday deemed the conviction-centric approach, which law enforcement currently use in tackling impaired driving, to be ineffective in discouraging reoffending.

“This ‘make ‘em pay and lock ‘em up’ approach may get these offenders off the street, but punishment aimed at the immediate behavior rather than the cause and delivered in a vacuum is unlikely to reduce recidivism or lead to long-term behavior change,” the report read.

In 2018, about 30% of all deaths in crashes were connected to alcohol, according to the report. There were more than 10,500 deaths from crashes involving a driver that had a blood-alcohol concentration of at least .08%, the legal limit in every state except Utah where the limit is .05%.

Nine percent of drunken drivers involved in deadly crashes had a prior conviction for driving under the influence.

“More than 95% of drivers indicated that driving after drinking enough alcohol to be over the legal limit is very or extremely dangerous,” researchers said. “But approximately 11% of those same motorists admitted to engaging in this dangerous behavior in the past month.”

And drugs have become a growing concern.

“Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of fatally injured drivers that tested positive for drugs increased from 28% to 44%,” researchers said.

The report made recommendations for how to deal with people who repeatedly drive impaired, highlighting promising approaches including data sharing and “DUI monitoring courts” which screen offenders and assign them to either an “accountability” track or a “treatment” track.

Researchers pointed to the Virginia Alcohol Safety Action Program as an effective tool, calling it “the only program of its kind in the nation.”

It collaborates with the court system and runs a network of programs “strategically located throughout the Commonwealth” to help reduce impaired driving.

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