State Legislatures have enacted new tougher laws for drunk driving throughout the years. For example, the laws in Kansas prevent a plea off of a DUI, lowered the limit many years ago to .08, make it tough to expunge drunk driving convictions, require ignition interlocks for offenders, and have increased fines. In fact, it's the popular and easy thing for legislatures and representatives to do.
But actually reshaping the culture is another matter entirely. University of Wisconsin psychology professor, John Curtis, spoke out on his state's recent legislation toughening the laws for drunk driving, saying, "It's easy for us to pass legislation that will not affect most of us, and this won't." For Curtin, a core issue is the focus on repeat offenders. They're the ones who spark public outrage, but evidence suggests that most serious drunken-driving crashes involve people with no operating-while-intoxicated record. "It's convenient and comfortable for all of us to believe that we're not the problem," Curtis said.
What about the prevention paradox? The thought is that individuals who chronically abuse alcohol are more likely than the typical drinker to do things like drink and drive. However, because there are so many more typical drinkers, the thinking goes, they collectively account for most of the drunken driving. Therefore, people who look at problem drinking from a public health standpoint, tend to support general measures like raising taxes on alcohol. Obviously, the alcohol hates that. They argue that higher taxes simply results in higher prices, often raising prices more than what the tax increase would require, researchers have found. Furthermore, they argue that tax increases threaten consumption across the board.
To many advocates of wielding tax policy to attack alcohol-related problems, that's the point. Reduce drinking generally, they say, and you reduce problems that arise from drinking. To others, however, the approach smacks of neo-prohibitionism.
Martin Schreiber, MillerCoors' lobbyist and a former Wisconsin acting governor, said, "It does tug at the heart and it does cry out for something to be done," he said. "If it would be that increasing the beer tax would have a curb on alcohol abuse it would be another situation, but the fact of the matter is that while an increase in the beer tax may affect sales, it does not curb alcohol abuse."
However, there are those that vehemently disagree with this view For example, Duke University economists Cook, University of Illinois at Chicago economists Chaloupka, and University of North Carolina economists Ruhm, say increased taxes can indeed curb problems by reducing consumption. Cook said, "By neglecting to raise alcohol excise taxes, the Legislature has bypassed the one effective measure for reducing DUI that actually generates revenue for the state rather than imposing costs," and "Alcohol excise taxes have proven effectiveness in reducing alcohol abuse and its damaging consequences."
Chaloupka indicated that simply toughening DUI laws would only have a modest impact, stating, "This contrasts with the impact of significant increases in alcoholic beverage taxes," he said via e-mail. "There's considerable research evidence that shows that higher taxes and prices for alcoholic beverages reduces drinking and driving (particularly among younger age groups), significantly reducing motor vehicle crashes and deaths."
Whatever people say, the truth is, drinking and driving has cut significantly over the past several years. Some argue it's because of the toughened DUI laws. Others argue, it's the economy. Randy Schultz, a Sheriff captain, doesn't give much credit toward the recent trend stating, "That's far too short a span." Schultz, as it happens, is wrestling with a high total of drunken-driving crashes on the highways he oversees, and he thinks the problems aren't going away soon. "If there was any other unnatural cause of death killing this many people in this state each year there'd be a public uproar to stop it," he said via e-mail. "It will take more than law changes to fix it. It will take all of us: parents, schools, police, churches, prosecutors, judges - you and me."