In our best year, 1983, 1.9 million drivers were arrested for driving while impaired (DWI) in the United States. This number represented approximately 1 percent of the Nation’s total licensed drivers.
This was a significant increase over the 197Os, when only about one-half of 1 percent of licensed drivers were arrested for DWI each year.
Still, it is not enough. Speaking a decade ago, Borkenstein (1975) noted that Roadside surveys of the occurrence of alcohol in the driving public have shown that when enforcement is at the current level of 2 arrests per officer per year, and with automobile density what it is in the average congested city today, there are about 2,000 violations for each arrest.
A “violation” is a trip from one point to another with a blood alcohol concentration of .lO percent or higher; thus, in a typical community of 1 million population, with 1,000 patrol officers making two arrests per man per year, there will be 2,ooO arrests and 4 million violations.
Since Borkenstein made that statement, the percentage of licensed drivers arrested for DUI has doubled and, therefore, the ratio of violations to arrests may now be down to 1,000 to one.
Indeed, two studies suggested that where intensive enforcement is applied, the violation-to-arrest ratio can be reduced to approximately 300 to one (Beitelet al. 1975; Hause et al. 1982).
These higher arrest rates, which are not typical of the enforcement level of the country as a whole, have been shown to produce small reductions in alcohol-related accidents (Voas and Hause 1987).
DWI arrests nationally rose significantly from 1979 to 1983; the proportion of highway fatalities that were alcohol-related dropped 10 to 15 percent from 1982 to 1986. The extent to which this increase in arrests contributed to the subsequent decrease in alcohol-related fatalities is difficult to determine.
The increase probably contributed as one element in a larger complex of factors that included citizen activist programs, alcohol legislation, and increased public interest in health and safety (Howland 1988).
Regardless, a doubling of the total number of arrests has had, at best, a modest effect on the alcohol-related casualty rate.
Luckily, deterrence of drunk driving is not determined by the absolute number of arrests but by the public’s perception of the probability of being arrested (Ross 1984). While it may be generally true that the more arrests made, the more the public will bedeterred, there is no precise relationship between the number of arrests and the extent of deterrence.
Aaron R. Bortel is a well-known and respected San Francisco DUI Lawyer, practicing throughout the Bay area. Mr. Bortel has dedicated his legal practice to the defense of persons accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and or drugs.
For a Free Consultation Call Toll Free at 1-888-373-8000
Robert B. Voas, Ph.D.
Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERkf)
John H. Lacey, Ph.D.
The Universiy of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center