Why Does Anyone Drive Drunk?

by Jeffrey A Luhrsen on November 22, 2013

The fact that drunk driving is dangerous isn’t news to most of us. Indeed, you’re unlikely to find anyone who condones driving under the influence.  Behind the beliefs is ample supporting research.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, someone is injured every 90 seconds in the US due to a drunk driving incident. Deaths related to drunk driving crashes happen every 53 minutes – more than one an hour.

Stricter laws regarding blood alcohol content level and harsher penalties for people caught driving drunk have seriously helped reduce drunk driving auto accidents in the last 30 years. In Florida, the annual number of drunk driving incidents decreased almost 40% from 1982 to 2011. However, that doesn’t mean that we should declare drunk driving a thing of the past. In 2011 in Florida, there were 11,816 alcohol-related crash injuries and 30% of traffic fatalities were alcohol-related.

Between the risk of getting into an accident and the legal penalties for being caught driving drunk, why does anyone still do it? Shouldn’t the cost outweigh the benefit of having an easy way to get home after a night at the bar?

How Alcohol Influences Decision Making

One of the biggest factors at play in the decision to drive drunk is, of course, alcohol’s influence on judgment. We all probably knows someone who has made decisions while drunk that they never would make while sober, and there’s plenty of scientific data to back up the anecdotal evidence that alcohol impairs decision-making.

A recent study at the University of Missouri looked at a sample of 82 young adults and compared their attitudes regarding drunk driving on two separate occasions: once when they were completely sober and once when they had consumed alcohol. Study participants were asked how they felt about driving at a hypothetical BAC level, then allowed to drink a moderate amount of alcohol and asked how they felt about driving in their current state. The study found that, in general, there were pronounced differences between attitudes towards drunk driving when sober and attitudes after having consumed alcohol. Simply put, participants were far more willing to drive drunk after they’d had even just a couple of drinks.

Most people don’t set out with the intention to drive drunk. What tends to happen is that they’lldrive to a bar or a friend’s house, drink more than they are planning to, and then think that the only way they can get home is to get behind the wheel. Even when their BAC is over the legal limit of .08%, they may feel like they’re in control, and the more they drink, the more it might seem like a perfectly reasonable decision to drive home. This does not, of course, mean that impaired decision-making is a good excuse or a defense for drunk driving, but it is the reality.

A Cost-Benefit Analysis

What is essentially at play in the decision to drive drunk is a cost-benefit analysis. An individual weighs the risk of getting into an accident or being pulled over against the convenience of getting themselves home without having to pay for a cab, take public transit, or find a designated driver. Underage drinkers might also be motivated to drive out of fear that their parents or another authority figure will find out they were drinking if they have to pay for a taxi or call someone for a ride home.

The people who make the decision to drive when intoxicated are the ones who have evaluated the benefits as being greater than the cost. Some of the most common excuses for drunk driving are things like “It’s a hassle to leave my car overnight,” “My house is just a few miles down the road,” and “I’ve always made it home fine before.”

Many campaigns have focused on the legal and criminal costs of getting a DUI (you’ll be charged exorbitant fines, have your insurance premiums skyrocket, lose the ability to drive, and my need to hire an attorney, for starters), but fear of legal punishment does not seem to be a substantial enough deterrent for the people who do choose to drive drunk. According to MADD, a drunk driver will drive under the influence 80 times on average before their first arrest. Previous experiences of driving drunk without adverseconsequences reinforce the belief that the driver “will be fine” if they continue to engage in this risky behavior.

A study byUniversity of Oregon professor Benjamin Hansen found that when it comes to drunk driving, past negative experiences are much more likely to convince someone not to drive drunk than the fear of negative things that might happen in the future. It’s incredibly unfortunate that it may take something as serious as getting an aggravated DUI or getting into anauto accident to convince someone that they should never drive drunk, but that seems to be the way many of our brains work.

What Needs to Be Done

The number of drunk driving accidents in Florida and around the United States has decreased dramatically in the last 20 years. In fact, the annual number of drunk driving fatalities has decreased 52% in the US from 1982 to 2011. However, this statistic is likely of little comfort to anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in a drunk driving accident.

In addition to the legal penalties for driving drunk, Florida needs to increase education efforts to discourage drunk driving from a young age. Young people should not only be educated on the negative consequences of driving drunk, but also about alternative methods of transportation if they are intoxicated. Those who at the beginning of the nightalready have a plan for how they are going to get home at the end of the night when they go out drinking are less likely to be in a situation where they feel like they have to rationalize driving. Having a designated sober driver, taking a taxi, or taking public transportation are all good alternatives to driving drunk. Parents, too, should be made to understand that kids who drink underage often make poor decisions about driving intoxicated because they fear the repercussions of getting caught. They need to know that even though you don’t want them drinking, if they do drink it’s far more important to you that they get home safely.

While it would be incredibly naïve to believe that the problem will ever go away entirely, improving education about alternatives to drunk driving can only help deter people from driving while intoxicated in our state. Every time that someone can be stopped from driving drunk a potential victim – or several – is saved.

Jeffrey A Luhrsen
Attorney Jeffrey A. Luhrsen credits his military career with the work ethic, integrity, and tenacity that drives his career as a personal injury attorney. Having garnered numerous academic awards and scholarships during college and law school, Mr. Luhrsen has continued to earn accolades throughout his career, including a Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ Peer Review Rating, the highest rating an attorney can achieve in legal ability and ethical standards. He has been in private practice since 1998 with a focus on tort claims and insurance disputes. Luhrsen Law Group, based in Sarasota, Florida, is proud to be a family-owned firm that helps Florida families recover after serious injuries and from legal wrongs.
Jeffrey A Luhrsen
Jeffrey A Luhrsen

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