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DECLARING THAT DRIVERS UNDER THE INFLUENCE PRESENT A DANGER ON THE ROAD

LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS

In 1989, declaring that drivers under the influence present a danger on the roads and in an effort to deter and punish driving under the influence, the California Legislature passed a bill that ordered the California DMV to establish and maintain data on driving under the influence violations. The purpose of this bill was to provide an evaluation tool for the legislature in the development of future regulation of driving under the influence. The bill became law under Section 1821 of the Vehicle Code. The information the DMV is required to provide under this law is left to the DMV but the statute makes suggestions. This report is supposed to be submitted annually by the DMV to the legislature and it must include a ranking of the efficacy of punishments for DUI and alternative intervention programs.

The latest Section 1821 report submitted by the DMV is dated January 2015 and covers statistics only through 2012. In compliance with the statute, the 2015 Annual Report of the California DUI Management Information System, as it is titled, includes statistics for DUI recidivism rates for first, second, and third DUI offenders with an analysis of the effectiveness of referrals to DUI programs.

Key findings in this report include statistics that indicate that recidivism rates for first-time DUI offenders has steadily reduced since 1990. In 2012, the rate of first-time DUI offenders re-offending was 3.8%, a significant decrease from 1990, when it was almost 8%. Similarly, recidivism for second-time DUI offenders has decreased significantly. In 1990, for example, this rate was 9.7%, while in 2012 it was 4.8%. However, for those DUI offenders who had three or more DUIs, the recidivism rate has increased.

DUI-related crashes have decreased as well. In 1990, 5.3% of first-time offenders and 4.0% of second-time offenders were involved in a crash. By 2012, those rates were 2.9% and 2.2%, respectively. That is a near 50% decrease in both categories. But a careful look at the statistics reveals that the rates made a steady decrease from 1990, with some years showing a slight increase, and then from about 2008 on, started decreasing significantly.

You may know the phrase that Mark Twain popularized about statistics. Yes, statistics can’t tell us the whole story. There are many factors that can account for the “numbers.” But since Twain’s day, statistical analysis has become sophisticated enough to account for unmeasured factors and errors. While we can never know exactly what has influenced the apparent decrease in first and second-time DUI incidents, the statistics suggest that tougher laws but not intervention programs are effective.

For example, those DUI offenders who completed only a three-month program showed significantly higher rates of DUI crashes than those assigned to a 9-month program but there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in terms of subsequent DUI incidents one-year post conviction. The report also notes that controlling for certain factors, there does not appear to be a statistical difference between DUI offenders re-offending after a three-month versus a nine-month program. And a 2012 comparison between DUI offenders who were assigned to DUI programs did not show a statistically significant difference from those who were not assigned to a program when subsequent DUI incidents were measured for these two groups.

The statistics do suggest that the tougher DUI laws put in place in the early-1980’s account for dramatic decreases in DUI recidivism. In 1980 35% of all DUI offenders reoffended. By 1984, the rate had fallen to 27% In the mid-1990’s, additional sanctions were imposed by law and the rates of recidivism by 1994 had dropped to 18%.

Legislators use these statistical reports to write new DUI laws. The statistics will surely be used to support a particular legislative agenda but it is not entirely clear whether this report actually has the answers.   I await the 2016 report for further analysis.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, William Weinberg can help. DUI attorney Weinberg has been defending Southern California residents since 1993. Call him at 949-474-8008 or email him at bill@williamweinberg.com for a free consultation about your case.

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