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Crime and Alcohol

Arrests for Drinking and Driving

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in ten arrests nationwide in 1997 was for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI)97 —one arrest for every 122 licensed drivers. 97 Nonetheless, DUI arrest rates have declined since 1983, when the rate peaked at one DUI arrest for every 80 licensed drivers.

Some states have laws designed to prevent DUI offenders from continuing to drink and drive. In 1988, Maine lowered the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit from .10 to .05 for people with previous DUI convictions. By 1994, fatal car accidents involving previously convicted drunk drivers had declined by 25 percent. Meanwhile, the rest of New England experienced increases in fatal accidents involving repeat offenders. Maine now prohibits individuals with previous DUI convictions from driving with any alcohol in their blood. 99 Both Utah and Maryland also have such policies for DUI offenders, and North Carolina has a .05 BAC limit for these drivers. However, no other New England state has adopted such laws. 100

In 1998, 38 percent of fatal traffic accidents in the United States were alcohol-related; on New Year's Day, the figure was 51 percent. 101

The Legal Limit Debate

Research indicates that BAC levels as low as .02 affect driving ability and crash rates. 102 Compared to sober drivers, drivers with BACs between .02 and .04 have twice the risk of being in a fatal crash; those with BAC .05-.09 have 11 times the risk. 103 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the vast majority of drivers are impaired at .08 BAC with regard to critical driving tasks, including braking, steering and lane changing. Studies find that performance of some of these tasks decreases by up to 70 percent at .08 BAC. 103

Seventeen states and Washington, D.C. have lowered their BAC limits from .10 to .08. A 1998 survey conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) found that 70 percent of Americans supported the .08 BAC threshold. 105 In 1998, Congress created an incentive program which authorized $500 million in Federal grants over six years to states that use a .08 BAC limit.

There has been a significant national debate over the effectiveness of lowering the legal limit to .08 BAC. According to the General Accounting Office, a .08 BAC law is not sufficient to deter drinking and driving; however, it can enhance the success of a larger, comprehensive package of measures aimed at decreasing drinking and driving rates. NHTSA and MADD support such comprehensive strategies, including license revocation at the arrest scene, sobriety checkpoints, reduced BAC limits for DUI offenders, alcohol interlock devices, mandatory treatment and graduated licenses for youth. 106

Policies to Reduce Drinking and Driving

Policies aimed at teens, such as the minimum legal drinking age and "zero tolerance" laws (no alcohol for underage drinkers) have helped reduce drinking and driving among youth. Since 1975 traffic deaths involving drivers aged 18 to 20 have dropped 13 percent, saving more than 18,000 lives. 107

Social pressure can enhance the general deterrent effect of laws as shown by the success of the designated driver campaign.108 A couple or group selects one person to abstain from drinking and be responsible for driving, while the others are free to drink or not as they choose. Between 1988 and 1992, more public service announcements were aired about designated drivers than about any other subject. 109 In addition to commercials, dialogue was included in top-rated television series regarding the importance of designated drivers. Gallup surveys indicated the success of the campaign in changing drivers' behavior. In September 1988, two months prior to the campaign's start, 62 percent of all respondents said they and their friends regularly used a designated driver. By mid-1989, that figure rose to 72 percent. 110 Among male respondents, use of designated drivers increased from 54 percent to 71 percent. 111

University of Michigan researchers say waning prevention messages aimed at younger drivers may lead to a resurgence of drinking and driving among youth. According to Monitoring the Future, the percent of teens who reported driving after drinking in the past two weeks dropped by half between 1984 to 1995, from 31 percent to 15 percent; however, in recent years, the rate has stabilized, and even increased slightly to 16 percent in 1998. In addition, an increasing number of teenagers say they have been in a car with a driver who has been drinking.

Alcohol and Violent Crime

Alcohol is closely linked with violence. 112 According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, many more violent crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol than all other drugs. 113 In 1995, four in ten probationers reported drinking at the time of a violent offense, compared to one in ten who reported other drug use. A 1990 review of 15 studies found that approximately 60 percent of people convicted of homicide were drinking at the time of the offense. 114 According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), drinking by the victim, the assailant or both is also involved in over half of sexual assaults. 115 A large number of probationers have alcohol problems. For example, half have had alcohol-related domestic disputes and almost one-third have been in a physical fight after drinking. 116

The relationship between alcohol and violence is obvious in trauma centers. A 1993 study of emergency room (ER) trauma found that patients with violence-related injuries were at least twice as likely to have been drinking than patients with injuries from other causes. 117 Overall, heavy drinkers and people with a history of treatment for alcohol abuse are over-represented in ER populations. 118 In addition, a 1999 Johns Hopkins University study found that almost one-third of people who are murdered or die of injuries (other than traffic crash injuries) are legally drunk at the time of death.

Family Violence

Drinking is closely linked to violence against intimates. More than two-thirds of victims in cases of domestic violence (spouses or significant others) report that the offender was using alcohol, compared to fewer than one-third of cases where the assailant is a stranger. 119 In many domestic violence cases, both the assailant and the victim have been drinking. 120 Half of alcoholic women have been victims of domestic violence. 121

Alcohol abuse frequently plays a role in child abuse and neglect cases. Alcohol and other drug abuse by a parent or guardian is involved in 7 out of 10 cases of child abuse and neglect; 90 percent of child welfare professionals cite alcohol as the drug of choice in these cases.

According to a 1993 study conducted by the Research Institute on Addictions, nearly nine in ten alcoholic women were physically or sexually abused as children. 121

96 . Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 1998.

97. Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 1998.

98. Ralph Hingson, T. Heeren, M. Winter, "Effects of Maine's 0.05% Legal Blood Alcohol Level for Drivers with DWI Convictions." Public Health Reports, 113:440-446, 1998.

99 . Ralph Hingson, Boston University, Social and Behavioral Sciences, personal communication, 10/19/99.

100 . Traffic Safety Facts 1998: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and the General Estimates System (GES). NHTSA, October 1999.

101 . "The Merits of a .08 BAC Per Se Law for Adult Drivers." US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1997.

102 . "The Merits of a .08 BAC Per Se Law for Adult Drivers." US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1997.

103 . "The Merits of a .08 BAC Per Se Law for Adult Drivers." US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1997.

104 . "Americans Support Lowering Drunk Driving Limit and Tough Penalties for Repeat Offenders, But Experts Warn Against Complacency." Irving, TX: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, November 1998.

105 . Rating the States: A Report Card on the Nation's Attention to the Problem of Alcohol- and Other Drug-Impaired Driving. Irving, TX: Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 1996.

106 . "Young Drivers Traffic Safety Facts." U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1996.

107 . William DeJong and Ralph Hingson, "Strategies to Reduce Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol." Annual Review of Public Health, 19:359-78, 1998.

108 . William DeJong and Ralph Hingson, "Strategies to Reduce Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol." Annual Review of Public Health, 19:359-78, 1998.

109 . William DeJong and Ralph Hingson, "Strategies to Reduce Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol." Annual Review of Public Health, 19:359-78, 1998.

110 . William DeJong and Ralph Hingson, "Strategies to Reduce Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol." Annual Review of Public Health, 19:359-78, 1998.

111 . Seventh Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health, Secretary of Health and Human Services, January 1990.

112 . "Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995." U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Special Report, March 1998.

113 . Ninth Special Report to the U.S. Congress on Alcohol and Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, June 1997.

114 . Facts About Alcohol Abuse and Dependence. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, May 1998.

115 . Substance Abuse and Treatment of Adults on Probation, 1995. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1998.

116 . Cheryl J. Cherpitel, "What Emergency Room Studies Reveal About Alcohol Involvement in Violence-Related Injuries." Alcohol Health & Research World, NIAAA, 17(2):162-166, 1993.

117 . Cheryl J. Cherpitel, "What Emergency Room Studies Reveal About Alcohol Involvement in Violence-Related Injuries." Alcohol Health & Research World, NIAAA, 17(2):162-166, 1993.

118. Alcohol and Crime: An Analysis of National Data on the Prevalence of Alcohol Involvement in Crime. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, April 1998.

119 . James J. Collins and Pamela M. Messerschmidt, "Epidemiology of Alcohol-Related Violence." Alcohol Health and Research World, NIAAA, 17(2):93-100, 1993.

120 . Evan Stark and Anne Flitcraft, "Violence Among Intimates: An Epidemiological Review." In Handbook of Family Violence (Vincent B. Van Hasselt et al, Eds.). New York: Plenum Press, 1998 (pp.21-22).

121 . Brenda A. Miller and William R. Downs, "The Impact of Family Violence on the Use of Alcohol by Women." Alcohol Health and Research World, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 17(2):137-143, 1993.

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