Friday, January 20, 2012

A New List of 39 Recommendations (Updated)

In 1982, President Reagan appointed a special commission to study the problem of drunk driving in America. They came up with 39 recommendations, #8 of which was to raise the drinking age to 21 in all 50 states. Of all the recommendations, that was the one that got the most attention, often at the expense of the others. Most of the other 38 were just simple common sense measures, and many of these were implemented to some extent in both the United States and Canada. Interestingly, the decline in alcohol-related traffic fatalities since 1982 occurred at about the same rate in both countries, with no evidence of divergence in the expected direction despite the fact that Canada did not raise the drinking age to 21. In fact, the decline was slightly faster in Canada (ditto for the UK and Australia as well, who remained at 18).  And fatalities declined in all age groups, not just those under 21.  While the problem of drunk driving has been greatly reduced in both the US and Canada, it remains persistent.  We still hear all too often about innocent people killed by drunk drivers who already have multiple DUIs on their record, in addition to countless others who simply weren't caught until it was too late.

More than a quarter-century later, a new set of 39 recommendations is long overdue. We know a lot more about the problem now than we did in 1982, and have a better sense of what works in the long run and what does not. The nature of the problem has also changed, with most of the deaths caused by so-called "hardcore" DUI offenders who drive drunk repeatedly.  By the time someone finally gets caught even once, they had already driven drunk an average of 88 times--often hundreds of times.  And it's an open secret that the vast majority (nearly 9 out of 10) of them are over 21, with 21-24 year olds being the worst offenders of all.  Thus a multifaceted and wholehearted approach is essential. But what is currently being done is both over-inclusive and under-inclusive, and progress has stalled until very recently.  And as long as we keep following outdated methods, we will surely fail to see any further progress in the future.  The updated list, devised by Twenty-One Debunked, is as follows, with those in red being the highest priorities:
  1. Lower the drinking age to 18, ideally in all 50 states and DC. The more states, the better.
  2. Raise and equalize all of the federal alcohol taxes to the 1991 real value of the liquor tax. That would be $21.33/proof-gallon for all beverages, proportional to alcohol content.   Use the bulk of the revenue for education, treatment, and DUI enforcement.
  3. Lower the blood alcohol limit to 0.05 BAC for administrative penalties, while keep the BAC limit 0.08 for criminal penalties, as some Canadian provinces have done.   Maintain a Zero Tolerance law (0.02 BAC) for drivers under 21 and/or all drivers with less than 3-5 years of licensed driving. 
  4. Increase the number of roving patrols and sobriety checkpoints for DUI enforcement, and their publicity.  Checkpoints should be considered a supplement to patrols, not a substitute.
  5. Increase alcohol education programs, but make them more honest and comprehensive. An excellent model is AlcoholEdu, by Outside the Classroom. This can also be combined with social norms marketing campaigns.
  6. Toughen the penalties for driving under the influence, with graduated penalties based on BAC.  See the chart below. 
  7. Make fines for DUI proportional to the relative risk at a particular BAC. For example, 0.15 would be 50-100 times higher than 0.05. 
  8. Restrict alcohol advertising to no more than what is currently allowed for tobacco. That means no TV, radio, or billboards.
  9. Increase alcohol treatment. Require all DUI offenders to undergo an alcohol assesment to determine if they have an alcohol use disorder. If so, force them into treatment via DUI court and monitor them electronically with a SCRAM bracelet, in addition to other penalties.
  10. Use fines and fees from offenders to pay for enforcement of DUI laws, to make the program completely self-sustaining.
  11. For the eight states that currently lack it, institute administrative license suspension/revocation. The administrative penalty for refusing a breathalyzer or any other test should be greater than or equal to that for failing it.
  12. Have mandatory jail time for all DUI offenses of 0.08 or greater, including first offenses. Make driving with 0.15 BAC or higher a felony on the first offense, and 0.08 or higher a felony on the second offense, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
  13. Those who kill or seriously injure someone else in an alcohol-related, at-fault crash should get a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, permanent license revocation, and forfeiture of any and all vehicles owned by that person upon conviction.
  14. Do not allow plea bargains for any DUI offense.
  15. For anyone convicted of drunk driving, drunk violence, or repeated drunk and disorderly conduct, blacklist them from buying alcohol or even entering a bar for at least a year or until age 21, whichever is longer.  Do the same for anyone furnishing alcohol to anyone under 18 that is not one's own child.
  16. De-register any car owned (or registered) by a DUI offender, boot it, and confiscate the plates upon arrest.  Or better yet, impound the vehicle at the offender's expense.  When (if) they get their license back, or get a conditional license, give them special "scarlet letter" DUI plates. 
  17. Require ignition interlocks for all conditional licenses, and for any DUI offender that gets their license back, forever.
  18. Make ignition interlocks standard on all newly manufactured vehicles sold in the USA, with use and maintenance of these devices voluntary for non-offenders.
  19. Abolish the "assigned risk" pools for auto insurance, or at least forbid any DUI offenders from joining them.
  20. Repeal all "alcohol exclusion" laws for insurance, which have been shown to do more harm than good.
  21. Make it a federal crime to drive drunk across state lines.  Punishable by a mandatory 5 years hard labor in federal prison.
  22. Eliminate any rules of evidence that prohibit admission of chemical test refusals--it should be used against a DUI defendant in court.
  23. Make the road test tougher--an hour long like it is in the UK.
  24. Make licenses easier to lose for moving violations, especially during the first two years.
  25. Bring back free driver's ed classes for all high school and college students.
  26. Require all drivers involved in fatal accidents to be tested for alcohol and drugs.
  27. Lift state-mandated smoking bans in bars, which have been shown to increase DUI fatalities.
  28. Extend bar hours to 3 am or later, but have a one-way door policy after 1 or 2 to reduce late night bar-hopping. Or let the locals decide rather than the state.
  29. Raise the gas tax by a penny each week until it is $1.00 higher than it currently is.  Call it "a penny for progress."
  30. Improve public transportation, especially very late at night. Use the alcohol and gas taxes to pay for it.
  31. Lift any cap on the number of taxicabs wherever it exists, or better yet, subsidize taxi service to reduce the costs.
  32. Encourage the hospitality industry to set up "safe rider" programs, particularly in rural areas.
  33. Limit or reduce alcohol outlet density in cities and other high-density areas, but increase it in rural areas. More rural bars within walking distance = less drunk driving deaths.
  34. Dry counties and towns should go wet, especially if their neighbors are wet.
  35. Abolish all social host laws, both civil and criminal. Furnishing alcohol to minors should not include merely providing a safer location to drink.
  36. Put a price floor on alcoholic beverages, especially for off-premises sales.
  37. Kegs and cases of beer should be sold only in beer distributors, which should close at 10 pm. A purchase age limit higher than 18 may be desirable for such bulk quantities, which are very unlikely to be for personal use. Ditto for very large quantities (i.e. multiple liters) of hard liquor.
  38. Increase media campaigns against drunk driving, similar to the Australian model.
  39. Last but not least, park a police car in front of every bar possible to watch for drunks getting into their cars about to drive.  Then nail them.  It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.
Recomendation #1 implies that, at the very least, we should repeal the federal highway funding penalty for doing so, and let the states use their Constitutional rights to decide for themselves. Recommendations #3, #4, and especially #21 should take care of any potential adverse effects of unequal drinking ages across states or internationally, as well as dry counties that refuse to go wet.

To avoid collateral damage, recommendation #2 should not apply to microbrewers. Their beer is already relatively expensive anyway, and those who abuse alcohol tend to go for the mass-produced, cheap stuff.

If all 39 of these recommendations were followed, the alcohol-related fatality rates should be cut by at least half in the first year alone. If only the ones in red were followed, or even just the first six, there would still be a dramatic drop in fatalities in both the short and long term. Some of them, such as #1, are a bit counterintuitive (the whole purpose of this blog explains in detail why #1 is actually a good thing rather than something to fear).

When we say graduated penalties, the table below is a good guide to what they should be:

BAC ThresholdFirst offenseSubsequent offenses within 10 years
(under 21 or novice, administrative only)

$250 fine ($500 if over 0.05)
30 day suspension
(90 day if over 0.05)
3 day impoundment

$500 fine
6 month suspension (2nd), 1 year revocation or until 21 (3rd or 2nd over 0.05)
7 day impoundment
Ignition interlock 1 year or until 21
(administrative only)

$500 fine
3 day suspension
3 day impoundment

$750 fine (2nd), $1000 (3rd)
30 day suspension (2nd), 1 year revocation (3rd)
7 day impoundment (2nd), 30 day impoundment (3rd)
Ignition interlock 1+ year 
$1000 fine
Minimum 1 year revocation
(or until 21, whatever is longer)
Mandatory 30 days in jail, up to 6 months
Ignition interlock 5+ years after re-license
$2500 fine
License revoked for at least 10 years (forever for 3rd offense)
Mandatory 1+ year in jail (possible felony)
Possible vehicle forfeiture upon conviction
$5000 fine
Minimum 5 year revocation
Mandatory 6 months jail, up to 1 year
Ignition interlock forever
$7500 fine
License revoked forever
Mandatory 5 years prison (felony)
Vehicle forfeiture upon conviction
$10,000 fine
Minimum 10 year revocation
Mandatory 1 year in prison, up to 5 years
Ignition interlock forever
$20,000 fine
License revoked forever
Mandatory 5+ years prison (felony)
Vehicle forfeiture upon conviction

In addition to (and independently of) criminal penalties, those who blow above 0.08 or refuse the test should be given the following immediate adminstrative penalties upon arrest:

Test failure, first offense:  90 day suspension, 7 day impoundment
Test failure, second offense in 5 years: 1 year suspension, 30 day impoundment
Test refusal, any offense:  1 year suspension, 30 day impoundment 

Conditional licenses should only be given for grave reasons, be highly restricted, and require ignition interlocks.

All offenses would require completion of an alcohol education program and alcohol abuse screening, paid for by the offender. 

Driving with a  BAC above 0.08 with kids under 16 in the car should be an automatic felony, and treated like 0.15+.

In other words, though we've clearly wrestled the problem to the ground, we have unfortunately allowed ourselves to become complacent and distracted.  It's time to finish the job.


  1. Instead of using 21 as a minimum age for laws and rules, I say, use the age of 20. This makes sense because when someone is 20, they are in their twenties. The drinking age should be lowered to 18 in all states and territories where the drinking age is not 18. I have my plan to lower the drinking age where alcohol education and an alcohol license would be required. This would be similar to #15. You have many good recommendations to prevent and decrease drunk driving while doing it in a way without being ageist; except where the age of 21 is used as restriction. If anyone has had two or more DUIs with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, she or he shouldn't be allowed to rent vehicles with the help of a federal database. Good recommendations because they are hard-hitting.

  2. Thanks for the comment. A few things need clarification. For the zero tolerance law, I think it ideally it should be based on the number of years of licensed driving one has, like most other countries do. Novice drivers of ANY age are a high-risk group, and should not mix any alcohol with driving. But many countries set it at 21 or x number of years of licensed driving whatever is longer, while the drinking age is 18 or even lower. But for practical purposes, keeping the zero tolerance age at 21 for at least a few more years when the drinking age is lowered to 18 would be wise because 1) it would help alleviate opponents' fears of increased drinking and driving by 18-20 year olds, 2) it would reduce the risk of any short-term increase in traffic crashes, and 3) as long as federal highway funding remains an issue, any state that changes their zero tolerance law from 21 would lose an additional 10%, making it a loss of 20% from changing both laws rather than just 10% from lowering the drinking age. Of course, once the federal law is changed, MADD loses its influence, and the drinking age has already been 18 for some time, the zero tolerance law of 21 can be changed or abolished.

    As for the drinking license idea, I respectfully disagree with it. Recommendation #15 gives everyone the benefit of the doubt from 18 onward until they prove otherwise. The onus would be on the government to prove that an individual's liberty should be abridged. For a drinking license, the opposite is true in that the individual would be reduced to begging the state for permission to exercise his or her natural liberty. We would also become the only country in the world that requires such a thing, except perhaps for the United Arab Emirates, and the rest of the free world seems to be doing fine without it. In addition, a drinking license would be a bureaucratic and logistical nightmare to enforce, and our society already requires more than enough licenses and permits as it is IMO. I think that recommendation #15, along with better alcohol education for everyone at an earlier age, would have essentially all of the benefits of your plan with none of the drawbacks.

    I don't know all the details about your plan, but I will say that [CR]'s plan of requiring a license only for 18-20 year olds is certainly ageist--if a drinking license is really so necessary, it should be required for all drinkers regardless of age. Otherwise, the idea should be scrapped. It also does little to alleviate opponents' fears, and has in fact become a lightning rod for criticism by the pro-21 crowd.