GHSA Says States Need to Do More to Target Repetitive Drunk Drivers
By Eric T. Chaffin
January 9, 2020
A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) indicates that people arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol are often arrested more than once, suggesting that sanctions, treatment, and education are not enough to change this dangerous behavior.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that every day, almost 30 people in the U.S die in drunk-driving crashes—one person every 48 minutes. Deaths have fallen by a third over the past three decades—thanks to the work of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and the NHTSA—but drunk-driving crashes still claim 10,000 lives a year.
GHSA Finds Drivers Know Drunk Driving is Dangerous, but Some Do It Anyway
The GHSA report indicates that in 2018, a total of 10,511 people were killed in crashes involving a drunk driver. “Even more startling,” the authors write, “is that these deaths accounted for nearly one-third of all people killed on our nation’s roadways.”
People are aware of the dangers. According to data from the AAA Foundation, 95 percent of drivers indicated that driving after drinking enough alcohol to be over the legal limit is very or extremely dangerous. But still, 11 percent of those same motorists admitted to doing just that over the past 30 days.
The GHSA also found that drivers with a blood-alcohol level of .08 g/dL or higher who were involved in fatal crashes were 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for DUI than drivers with no alcohol. Repeat offenders cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually.
In addition to alcohol, drivers may also be impaired by legal and illegal drugs. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of fatally injured drivers testing positive for drugs increased from 28 percent to 40 percent. The most common drugs involved included cocaine, methamphetamine, depressants (Xanax, Valium), opioids, PCP, ketamine, and cannabis.
GHSA Suggests New Policies to Focus on Individual Justice
Concerned particularly about repeat offenders, the GHSA investigated so-called “high-risk impaired drivers,” who seem to be highly resistant to changing their behaviors. They found that DUI offenders who suffer from a psychiatric disorder are more likely to re-offend, and re-offend more quickly.
Repeat drunk drivers may have both a substance abuse disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder, but these other conditions usually go untreated. Loopholes in the system result in many offenders going unmonitored and failing to comply with their sentences and conditions of supervision.
The GHSA suggests targeting this particular group of high-risk drivers through policy, interventions, and funding. An individualized justice approach, the GHSA argues, which would focus on treating each individual’s underlying problem. Screening assessment, treatment, and monitoring are vital to putting this population on the path to long-term recovery—and to keeping our roads safer.