Why Are DUIs Still so Common?

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(Newswire.net — August 11, 2018) — Despite decades of researchers, public policymakers, and average consumers speaking out about the dangers of drunk driving, DUIs and driving while impaired remain massive problems for the United States. Every day, roughly 29 people die from an alcohol-impaired vehicular crash, which is another death every 50 minutes.

And it’s not just fatalities that remain so high. Data from the FBI show that more than a million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of narcotics or alcohol in the last year on record, 2016. That doesn’t even count the millions of instances of impaired driving that occur without a fatality or an arrest.

So why, with all the information we have about the risks, is impaired driving still so common?

A Lack of Consistent Consequences

There are strict laws in place regarding drinking and driving; if you’re caught, depending on what state you live in and whether you’ve done this before, you could be arrested, jailed, given a heavy fine, or even have your license suspended. And if you hurt or killed someone due to your negligence, you could be held legally responsible for a massive payout—not to mention the weight on your conscience you’ll bear after injuring an innocent person.

The problem is, these consequences aren’t consistent; they only apply if and when a driver gets into an accident or happens to be pulled over. When a drunk driver gets home successfully, they’re rewarded to engage in that risky behavior again—after all, it worked out fine the first time.

Alcohol Availability

Alcohol is also highly available. More than 50 percent of Americans drink alcohol regularly, and there’s no sign of curbing that consumption pattern in the near future. We also celebrate alcohol consumption in our culture, making it a staple of everyday get-togethers and special occasions alike. Some substances, like tobacco, have been sufficiently demonized by the public to discourage its consumption, while others, like most narcotics, have been heavily regulated to control their use.

Limiting the sale or consumption of alcohol would likely be met with public outcry, so it’s not a suitable solution. However, it’s important to realize how much we love our alcohol in this society, and how that encourages heavy drinking.

Car Culture

A night of heavy drinking is, by itself, not enough to constitute a drunk driving problem; there’s also the “driving” side of the equation. Though there are signs of our car culture slowly fading out, Americans are obsessed with driving. We’ve built an elaborate highway system and ample parking to support our driving habits, rather than moving closer to urban areas, and relying on public transportation, biking, and walking.

Our car culture gives us more freedom, but is also more expensive and worse for the environment, in addition to contributing to the drunk driving problem. After one too many drinks, alcohol consumers sometimes have limited options; they can either drive home by themselves, or pay an expensive taxi fare to get home. Only growing acceptance of public transportation and other non-driving options can alleviate this problem.


Any type of impaired driving is bad, but studying the effects of different substances on driving can help us understand the peculiarities of alcohol’s effects. Specifically, cannabis consumers tend to show signs of impairment while driving, as you might expect, but there are far fewer deaths associated with driving while impaired via cannabis than via alcohol, and multiple studies seem to confirm that marijuana impairment isn’t quite as dangerous as alcohol impairment.

This is a controversial finding, to be sure, but it boils down to one key feature of alcohol consumption. Consumers of marijuana tend to overestimate how impaired they are, and will decide not to drive even if only mildly intoxicated—and if they do drive, they’ll be extra cautious, monitoring their surroundings closely and driving more slowly than usual. Alcohol consumers, on the other hand, overestimate their abilities. They insist, sometimes belligerently, that they aren’t too impaired to drive home, when in reality their reaction times have slowed down to a crawl. This false perception, combined with arrogance, leads far more drivers to hit the streets even when impaired by alcohol.

Toward a Solution?

Understanding the reason why drunk driving is still so prevalent is only the first half of the problem. And unfortunately, there’s no single culprit we can identify that, if corrected, could resolve the problem. Like most issues in society, drunk driving is a complex phenomenon that can’t be reduced to a single variable. However, if we work on driving positive cultural changes, such as reducing our overall alcohol consumption, relying on public transportation, and helping people accurately estimate their own levels of impairment, we may be able to finally see a drop in this dangerous crime.