Virginia is making great strides in cutting the number of drunk driving accidents. The path to success is not a secret: aggressive enforcement.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point underscores how bad this paradigm fails elsewhere. Gladwell cites a study that shows that the average smoker overestimates how many years smoking will take off their lives. Smokers think it will cost them 9 years when the real answer is probably more like 6. Paradoxically, education may make these people less risk-averse to smoking.
The same holds true with drunk driving. Everyone understands who will understand that drunk driving carries a substantial risk of injury and death to the drunk driver and everyone in his path. We don’t really need to come up with a new strategy to explain this axiom to people. We just need to catch and punish those who do drive drunk.
Maryland had 8,804 alcohol or drug-related car accidents in 2009. The strategy to reduce these is simple: arrest the potential drunk driver’s brother-in-law and punish him. The best strategy to stop drunk driving is to make people feel the heat of getting caught and getting punished. You know your brother-in-law drives drunk all the time and never gets caught. That fact is baked into your calculus of whether to say “I’m not driving far, I’ll take a chance.”