There is no question that a lot of people are killed by drunk drivers. If we took all drunk drivers off the road, there would be around 1,000 people who wouldn’t have died last year alone on California roads according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics. While California has some of the nation’s toughest drunk driving laws (although certainly not the toughest), this hasn’t stopped drunk drivers. In fact, according to the NHTSA, 30% of the people who die in traffic fatalities in this state are caused by drunk driving. That statistic has not been fairly consistent over the past decade. This rate as measured across the states runs from a whopping 42% in Wisconsin to a low of 19% in Utah.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) would like to see California’s DUI laws toughened up. Other than the recent ignition interlocking devise legislation, California’s DUI laws have not significantly changed since the reform of DUI laws in the 1980’s and 90’s. Our next-door neighbor, Arizona, has the toughest DUI laws in the nation. Yet, according to NHTSA data, Arizona’s fatality rate in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes is slightly more (at 31%) than the California rate of 30% and that has not changed over the last decade. South Dakota, which has the most lenient drunk driving laws in the nation, comes in a bit higher at 33%, but that is significantly lower than states such as Connecticut (39%), Texas (38%), and Alaska (36%), which have DUI laws that are even more strict than California’s.
This suggests that tougher laws and increased penalties may not be the answer. We all want to see the number of people killed by drunk drivers decrease but the solutions aren’t necessarily as simple as tougher laws. I would bet that even if the BAC threshold is lowered to 0.05% and significant mandatory jail time is enacted for even a first-time DUI, we won’t see a large decrease in drunk driving and the tragedies it causes. Consider that even cops, judges, and prosecutors drive drunk. If anyone should understand the legal consequences, they should be at the top of the list.