Drunk Driving as a Social Issue





How much longer will we be forced to endure the pain and atrocities due to the carelessness of drunk driving? Drunk driving has been a problem in the United States since the introduction of automobiles; however, it did not become an important social issue until the 1980’s. At that time the political atmosphere defined crime in terms of personal choice and individual responsibility. Drunk driving was defined as a problem located within individuals. Drunk driving is illegal in every state. It is not only illegal, but unsafe to operate an automobile if you are under the influence of alcohol.
When a person drinks, the alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream and various tests have been designed to measure the level of alcohol in a person’s blood. In most states, if a person has a blood alcohol level greater than .10%, that person is presumed to be too intoxicated to safely operate an automobile. Driving under the influence of alcohol is considered the nation’s most frequently committed violent crime, and in the 1980’s the public supported a wider range of non-criminal countermeasures, as well as stricter legal measures, to govern DUI’s. This movement against drunk driving was well reflected in the legislative arena. Between 1981 and 1987 some 934 new laws dealing with drunk driving were passed by state legislatures. Legal measures focus on deterring drunken drivers by providing stricter laws and punishment. Non-criminal countermeasures are concerned with reform and education and include treatment programs and educating citizens about the dangers of impaired driving. To prevent drunk driving, a combination of stricter laws with harsh punishments and non-criminal countermeasures must be implemented.
Legal measures are said to protect citizens through deterrence. Deterrence is defined as discouraging a particular behavior. There are two types of deterrence: individual or specific deterrence, and general deterrence. Individual or specific deterrence seeks to deter the offender from re-offending. General deterrence seeks to deter the public from criminal behavior through the punishment of offenders. “Deterrence is based on the perceived certainty, severity, and celerity of detection and sanction” (Vingilis 645). People who support legal measures are calling for harsher laws and tougher punishments. Some of the proposed measures are: 1. Anyone convicted of drunk driving will be required to pay large fines (starting at $5,000 for a first offense). 2. Anyone convicted of drunk driving will be required to spend at least some time in jail or prison. 3. All convicted drivers will be required to have yellow license plates on their cars so that other people will know who they are and what they have done. 4. Anyone convicted will automatically lose their driver’s license for one year. 5. Surprise roadblocks will be set up and police will stop all drivers and test them for drunk driving. 6. All convicted drivers who are alcoholics will be required to have psychological treatment. 7. An ignition interlock system will be installed in convicted driver’s vehicles. 8. The possible seizure and sale of a repeat offender’s vehicle, and 9. Lowering the blood alcohol level from .10% to .08%, since a person can still be drunk at .08%.
The goal of legal deterrence is to make the offense a less appealing choice. Brandon Applegate refers to this as “dominant paradigm” (177). A major problem the legal side faces is that policies are often subverted by implementation problems. Another problem is that shortly after the announcement of an increase in apprehension and conviction, offenses decline; however, reductions are not sustained and the rates of offending behavior soon return to the original level. Present day penalties for first-time violators are $250 to $400 in fines, twelve to forty-eight hours of required participation in an alcohol program, zero to thirty days in jail, six months to one year loss of driving privileges, and insurance surcharges. Two-time violators receive harsher penalties such as $500 to $1,000 in fines, thirty days of community service, forty-eight hours to ninety days in jail (the court may require ninety of those days to be community service work), ten year loss of driving privileges, and insurance surcharges. There are other penalties also: sixty-day penalties for driving in a reckless manner and exceeding the maximum speed limit by thirty miles an hour on the highway and twenty miles