- An Excerpt from RKM's GS Paper -

This paper begins by describing the problem of drunk driving and reviewing the factors that increase its risks. After that then it identifies a series of questions that can help analyze local drunk driving problems. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem of drunk driving and examines what is known about the effectiveness of these responses from research and police practice.

Simply put, drunk driving is a police concern because alcohol increases the risk that drivers will get in traffic crashes and kill or injure themselves or others. Alcohol impairment is the primary factor in traffic fatalities. In the Philippines, where drunk driving is among the most common types of arrest made by police, the number of alcohol-related crash deaths is roughly the same as the number of homicides. In addition, vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 20; many of these are alcohol-related.

The Related Problems

Drunk driving is one of a number of problems police confront that relate to impaired and dangerous driving. Others, which may require separate analysis and response, include:

  • driving under the influence of controlled substances;
  • underage drinking;
  • street racing;
  • speeding;
  • aggressive driving;
  • driving with a suspended or revoked license; and
  • hit-and-run crashes.

Harm Caused by Drunk Driving

Drunk driving harms individuals and communities in many ways.

  • Drivers, passengers, and pedestrians are killed and injured.
  • Injured persons, their families, and their employers suffer financial losses when an injured person cannot work.
  • Vehicles are damaged and destroyed.
  • Other property, such as trees, utility poles, highway signs, and buildings, are damaged and destroyed.
  • Motor vehicle insurance rates rise.
  • Traffic flow is impeded by crashed vehicles.
  • Other drivers, fearing for their safety, may avoid driving at certain times.
  • Police resources are consumed enforcing drunk driving laws, thereby reducing the resources that are available for other public safety problems.
  • Police, fire, emergency medical, and hospital resources are consumed treating the victims of drunk driving crashes.
  • Court and jail resources are consumed prosecuting and incarcerating drunk drivers.

Drunk Drivers

One of the reasons drunk driving is of such concern to police is that it is an offense committed by a broad spectrum of the population, including those who are otherwise generally law-abiding. Statistics estimated one-fifth to one-fourth of Filipino drivers admit to having driven after drinking at least once within the past year, and about five percent estimate that they were legally impaired. Drunk drivers come from all parts of the population spectrum, but are more likely to be male, between 25 and 44 years of age, unemployed or working class, and unmarried. Drunk drivers are more likely to be heavy drinkers or to have drinking problems. Drinking drivers under 21 years of age are about twice as likely as older drivers to be involved in fatal vehicle crashes.

Roadside surveys in other countries like the United States indicate that about three percent of drivers at any particular time are legally impaired. On weekend evenings the number of drunk drivers rises significantly: about eight percent of all drivers have blood alcohol concentrations greater than .05, and an additional nine percent of drivers have had at least one drink, meaning that on weekend evenings around 17 percent of all drivers are operating their vehicles under the influence of at least some alcohol. The Philippines is not an exception.

Considering the high traffic volume during this period, it is clear that there are a lot of impaired drivers, especially compared to the limited law enforcement resources that are available to investigate suspected incidents of drunk driving.

Although the general public and the police are perhaps most concerned about wholly innocent persons who are killed in alcohol-related crashes, it is in fact the drunk driver or his passenger who is most likely to be killed. In recent years, significant reductions have been achieved in the number of young drivers killed in alcohol-related crashes, due largely to higher legal drinking ages, greater licensing restrictions on young drivers, and stricter enforcement of juvenile drunk driving laws.

Factors Contributing to Drunk Driving

Understanding the factors that contribute to drunk driving in your jurisdiction can help to frame local analysis, to identify effective remedial measures, to recognize key intervention points, and to select appropriate responses.

Cultural and Economic Factors

Drunk driving is very much the result of a cultural norm that emphasizes drinking alcohol as a form of entertainment and driving as both transportation and entertainment. Cultural drinking habits also shape drunk driving patterns. For example, drunk driving will be more concentrated on weekend nights in places where such nights are considered prime time for heavy drinking. The extent of drunk driving also depends, obviously, on the availability of vehicles, so it is less likely in societies and communities where vehicles are prohibitively expensive.

Low Risk of Apprehension

Perhaps the single most significant factor in explaining why people drive while impaired is that they believe that there is little risk that they will be caught by police—and statistically, they are correct. By some estimates, the average drunk driver will drive while impaired between 80 and 2000 times for every time he is apprehended, depending on the enforcement capacity of the local police. In fact, most drivers believe they are more likely to be involved in a crash than they are to be stopped by police.

Even the most committed police agencies and officers can stop or arrest only a very small percentage of the impaired drivers who are on the road at any one time—probably less than one percent. There are several reasons this is so.

  • Police must ordinarily reasonably suspect a driver is impaired or has committed some other traffic violation in order to stop and detain the driver, and some drunk drivers are able to operate a vehicle without displaying obvious indicators of intoxication such as weaving or crossing the center line of the road.
  • There are far fewer police officers on duty at any one time than the public commonly imagines.
  • There are many competing priorities for police attention, particularly at times when drunk driving is at its peak.
  • Processing a drunk driving arrest is time-consuming, typically taking two to four hours.

The low probability that they will be stopped or arrested by the police on any particular trip undoubtedly leads many drivers to conclude that they can drink and drive without getting caught.

Detecting drunk driving is not as easy as it might seem. Those without specialized training in detecting alcohol impairment—even medical professionals—are notoriously poor at estimating alcohol impairment. For police, detecting drunk driving typically requires two separate judgments: first, that a vehicle is being operated by an impaired driver; and second, that the driver is impaired by alcohol or another controlled substance. Each judgment is in turn subject to two kinds of errors: first, that the driver is impaired by alcohol when in fact he is not (false positive); and second, which the driver is not impaired by alcohol when in fact he is (false negative).

Compounding the difficulty of estimating impairment is the fact that some police officers try to arrest only those drivers who they believe have high blood alcohol concentrations, either because they prefer to prosecute only strong cases or because they do not want to be criticized for wasting scarce police resources on borderline cases. Consequently, some officers systematically fail to arrest impaired drivers because they are only searching for the most impaired.


Serving obviously intoxicated guests and patrons increases the risk of drunk driving, especially when drinking occurs at a location that most guests and patrons must drive to. Absent adequate enforcement of the laws that prohibit serving intoxicated patrons, overserving is notoriously common. The combination of the social pressure put on servers by patrons and the economic pressure to maximize profit can often overwhelm a server’s better judgment.

Community Design

Perhaps obviously, drunk driving is more common where licensed establishments are located far from where people live and work. Accordingly, drunk driving is likely to be more common, proportionate to the number of drinkers, in rural or suburban settings. Where people can easily walk or take public transportation in order to drink at a licensed establishment, drunk driving is proportionately less common.

Responses to the Problem of Drunk Driving

Analyzing your local drunk driving problem will give you a better understanding of the factors that contribute to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you can consider possible responses to the problem.

The following strategies provide a foundation for addressing local drunk driving problems. These strategies are drawn from a variety of studies and police reports; several may apply in your community. It is critical that you tailor your response to local circumstances and that you can justify each response based upon reliable analysis.

In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses, because law enforcement alone is seldom effective in reducing or eliminating the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do; instead, carefully consider who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help address it.

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy

Drinking and driving is greatly influenced by contemporary social attitudes towards the practice. And although laws and law enforcement can help change social attitudes, the reverse is much more likely: that is, that change in social attitudes will lead to stricter laws and law enforcement. The general trend in social attitudes—at least in the United States, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan—has been toward a lessened tolerance for drinking and driving.

There is a broad range of social policy changes that can significantly reduce drunk driving—tax policy, urban planning, roadway design, vehicle safety, alcohol advertising, and emergency medical care, among others —but for the most part police can only influence these policies indirectly, through advocacy. The responses below are those that police have some capacity to influence directly, at least at the local level.

As is often the case, a combination of responses is likely to prove more effective than any single response. Legislatures and police agencies commonly implement a combination of responses that are effective in the aggregate, making it difficult or impossible to know which particular responses were effective and which were not.

Responses may work more or less well when applied to high-risk drunk drivers (those who are highly committed to driving while impaired) than when applied to occasional drunk drivers.

Specific Responses to Reduce Drunk Driving

The following are specific responses against drunk driving:

  1. On Legislation
    • Reducing the legal limit of per se violations.
    • Reducing the legal limit of per se intoxication for adult drivers
    • Reducing the legal limit of per se intoxication for repeat offenders
    • Reducing the legal limit of per se violations for underage drivers
    • Requiring drivers to submit to blood alcohol testing if arrested for drunk driving.
    • Raising the minimum legal drinking age
    • Prohibiting open alcohol containers in moving vehicles.
    • Requiring drivers and passengers to wear seat belts.
  2. On Enforcement
    • Increasing the number of police stops of suspected drunk drivers during high-risk periods.
    • Conducting sobriety checkpoints
    • Publicizing sobriety checkpoints can aid in convincing drivers that their risk of being stopped and arrested has increased.
    • Training police officers to detect impaired drivers.
    • Using preliminary breath testing devices
    • Police use of preliminary breath-testing devices such as the one pictured above increase the probability that a suspected drunk driver will be arrested.
  3. On Curtailing Driving Privileges
    • Suspending or revoking driver licenses administratively.
    • Imposing graduated licensing systems for young drivers
    • Impounding, immobilizing, or confiscating the vehicles of drunk drivers
    • Confiscating license plates from convicted drunk drivers.
    • Special license plates are issued to convicted drunk drivers to discourage them from driving.
  4. Sanctioning Convicted Drunk Drivers
    • Requiring convicted drunk drivers to install electronic ignition locks on their vehicles.
    • Requiring convicted drunk drivers to complete alcohol assessment, counseling, or treatment programs.
    • Confining convicted drunk drivers to their homes.
  5. Monitoring Drunk Drivers
    • Closely monitoring high-risk drunk drivers
  6. Reducing Alcohol Consumption
    • Reducing the consumption of alcohol.
    • Suing alcohol beverage servers for serving intoxicated patrons who then drive and cause traffic injuries.
    • Training alcohol beverage servers to recognize signs of impairment and enforcing laws prohibiting serving impaired patrons.
    • Enforcing laws prohibiting serving minors and intoxicated persons.
  7. On Public Education
    • Discouraging drinking and driving through public education and awareness campaigns.
  8. Alternative Transportation
    • Providing alternative transportation options to drinking drivers.

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