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Inadequacy of Drinking-Driving Laws - A lawyer's View (From International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety - Seventh Proceedings, P 438-453, 1979, Ian R Johnston, ed. See NCJ-73856)

NCJ Number
R Force
Date Published
16 pages
It is argued that changes in the law to simplify, objectify, and streamline the prosecution of the drinking driver in order to reduce alcohol-caused accidents have failed, and that what is needed is decriminalization of drinking and driving, supplemented by a regulatory approach.
Historically, concentration upon the prosecution of the most drunken drivers, depending greatly on the subjective perceptions of the arresting officer's testimony, failed to reduce the accident rate caused by drinking drivers. Consequently, a shift toward chemical and breath tests, which objectively defined the level of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) necessary for impairment of driving capabilities, provided the evidence for 'per se' statutes that prohibited the operation of a motor vehicle by a driver who had a BAC level higher than the prescribed level. However, despite increases in the number of convictions, alcohol-related accidents have not been reduced, because the drinking-driving laws have been violated on a scale disproportionate to the number of arrests. Since only a comparatively few violators are apprehended, deterrence is lacking because fear of arrest is too insubstantial to affect either drinking or driving behavior. Excluding a condition of severe driving impairment resulting in death, injury, or accident, the bulk of drinking-driving violations should be handled in a regulatory rather than a criminological framework. Far from downgrading the significance of such violations, control of drunken driving could be expanded in a regulatory context geared to traffic safety. Sanctions, with the exception of imprisonment, are routinely imposed for regulatory violations. Decriminalization would also allow modification of case processing procedures, hence, the ability to handle a larger number of cases. A proposed new traffic offense, Traffic Violation Aggravated by Alcohol (TVAA) would impose an additional sanction on drivers who commit moving violations, which are considered to be direct causes of traffic accidents where BAC readings above a specified level are present in the driver's blood. Such a preventive approach would more closely conform to community values and past legislative precedents. Fifty-three references are provided.