We all know that driving under the influence is unwise and dangerous, with potential consequences that should convince anyone that they shouldn’t do it. Yet, close to 200,000 Californians are arrested for DUI every year. What makes a driver decide that it’s okay to get behind the wheel after drinking?

Rational Choice Theory suggests that crimes are committed when a person believes committing the crime offers more benefits with lower costs than not committing the crime. The theory does not suggest that a person draws a line through a blank sheet of paper and lists the pros and cons, but rather that people are rational enough to weigh the options, even if subconsciously. While there are many critics of this theory and it surely doesn’t apply to all crimes, in terms of the driving under the influence, there may be some truth to the theory.

Although the effects of alcohol can distort a person’s decision-making skills—and this must surely figure into some individual’s decision to drive after driving—studies and empirical evidence suggest that many individuals make a rational choice to drive after drinking based on achieving the intended outcome (arriving at a destination) between the costs and inconvenience of not driving versus the cheaper and more convenient method of driving oneself and the probability of getting arrested for driving under the influence or some other detrimental consequence.

DUI laws are explicitly deterrent models and any deterrence theory model assumes that people are making rational choices. In the context of DUI laws, the model assumes a driver will chose not to drive under the influence for fear of getting caught. The deterrence theory as applied to DUI laws has been criticized because drunk people don’t make rational decisions. However, this ignores the fact that many people make the decision to drive while they are sober, even knowing that they will be drinking; for example, the decision to drive to the bar or the party.   But what if there was cheap, convenient public transportation that could get the individual from home to destination (where drinking is anticipated) and back and that transportation ran late into the night?

One 2011 study conducted in the Washington D.C. metro area found that when late night public transportation services were expanded, DUIs decreased considerably—by 40 percent. This would strongly suggest that when an alternative to driving under the influence is offered, which is low cost and convenient, individuals will make the rational choice to not drive drunk. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data shows that denser cities with good public transportation options have lower vehicle fatality rates than cities with less public transport options.

But consider the sprawling metropolises of Los Angeles and Houston, not all cities are conducive to cheap and widely available public transportation. Yet, even in those cities, there are public solutions such as a smaller local bus fleets (with smaller busses too) that run late into the night. Would drivers make more rational decisions to get to their destination and back without driving if they knew they had a viable alternative? Perhaps. Would the public costs associated with increased public transportation be less than the costs associated with prosecuting drunken drivers? In terms of lives, absolutely.

Orange County DUI attorney William Weinberg has been defending individuals charged with DUI for almost 25 years. Call him for a free consultation regarding your DUI matter at (949) 474-8008 or email him at

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