Despite warnings, signs, news reports, tweets, and messages everywhere – including this blog – an astounding number of North Carolinians decided to drink and drive over Independence Day weekend.
But how many drunk drivers were not caught? Estimates vary. The journal Injury Prevention gave these numbers:
The probability of arrest while driving at a blood alcohol level over 0.10% was 0.0058 (about one in 200).
So it’s plausible that some 120,000 drunk drivers plied North Carolina roads over the July 4th weekend. Among them were problem drinkers and others who will drink and drive again.
Other estimates run even higher. Some studies suggest that for every DUI arrest that is made, 600 or even 2000 drunk drivers go free.
What does it mean?
Arresting Drunk Drivers is Not Enough
There aren’t enough patrol cars and barriers to catch all of North Carolina’s drunk drivers, and if we tried, traffic would be slowed down to an intolerable level.
One solution that works is to ensure that drunk drivers who are caught do not reoffend. The way to do this is not with license suspension, which doesn’t work, but by installing an ignition interlock, combined with proper monitoring and treatment.
An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. It’s the only solution – apart from the expensive and often life-wrecking option of prison – which keeps an offender who is known to have driven drunk from getting back behind the wheel after drinking. And it’s the only solution that allows offenders to obtain treatment, support their families and find a better direction for their lives.
We should be thankful that those 588 drunk drivers were apprehended. But the answer to reducing drunk driving fatalities and injuries will not only be on the roads, where patrols do their best to spot disasters before they happen. The answer will be to combine that police work with strong ignition interlock laws, good enforcement, and diligent enforcement of the interlock program. It’s not a simple solution, but it’s one that’s been proven to work.