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Status Report, Vol. 40, No. 4 | SPECIAL ISSUE: ALCOHOL-IMPAIRED DRIVING | April 2, 2005 Subscribe

Hard-core drinkers respond to general deterrence

It isn't a myth that some people drink alcohol moderately and rarely to excess while others drink often and imbibe a lot. The myth is that the hard-core drinkers — often described as those who frequently have blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.15 percent or more — respond less to DWI laws and enforcement, compared with more moderate drinkers. In fact, the heavy drinkers have responded in about the same proportions.

From 1982 to 1997 the proportion of fatally injured drivers declined across all BACs (0.07 percent or less, 0.08-0.14, 0.15-0.19, 0.20-0.24, and 0.25 or more). The declines were similar across the groups, indicating that the heaviest drinkers responded about the same as the others.

"This is not to say that drivers with very high BACs aren't a problem. They are. They're overrepresented in alcohol-related fatal crashes," says Anne McCartt, Institute vice president for research and lead author of the study that found the declines. "For this reason there's nothing misguided about deterrence programs targeting them. The mistake is to put too much emphasis on such programs, especially at the expense of general deterrence, because the heaviest drinkers aren't the majority of offenders, let alone the only ones. We need to target all drivers who are impaired by alcohol because the DWI laws and enforcement programs that catch or deter the lighter drinkers also net the heavier ones."

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