A few thoughts on DWI

I wish to make a brief comment about the deadly incident in Times Square last week.  All were horrified by the violence committed by an individual captured and charged with that awful crime( I refuse to publicize the alleged perpetrator’s name and give him even small satisfaction of notoriety).  So many people felt a somewhat understandable sense of relief when it was determined that there was no apparent link to any extremist terrorism.  It was “only” DWI.

Who are we kidding?  Of course all are concerned and fearful of the risk of terrorist violence in our society.  However, in reality, from 2004-13 there have been a total of 80 Americans killed in such incidents–36 on US soil.  Tragic, sickening, no doubt.  But for comparison, in 2014 alone there were 9967 Americans killed in drunk driving incidents; this is 28 people/day and one every 53 minutes.  19% of children 0-14 killed in auto accidents (total 209 that year) involved alcohol impaired drivers and over 1/2 who died riding in cars were operated by an impaired driver.  There are approximately 1.1 million DWI arrests yearly.

Other shocking statistics regarding DWI can be found here.

So let’s get real.  Our society has made major strides in DWI over the past generation or so but the above demonstrates that it is still a much greater public health problem in comparison to terrorism.

Obviously its extremely complex to address, but here are just a few simple policies that we as a society could adopt to help better control this terrible scourge:

  • Raise the alcohol tax–the American Journal of Public Health estimates that doubling the tax would reduce DWI mortality by 35%.  Many pundits argue generally about raising taxes with the claim that “if you tax something you will have less of it.”  It is mostly an arguable point at best .  But less DWI?  Sign me up.
  • Reduce the number of alcohol retail outlets.  The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports that fewer liquor stores results in less alcohol related mayhem.  There is a “Goldilocks” effect here–too much or too few are both problematic.  But stricter licensing standards would likely be helpful.
  • Studies from the RAND Corporation strongly suggest that outlawing the purchase of liquor by people convicted of alcohol related crimes would cut into these numbers quite dramatically.  The program could be implemented with special bracelets and/or breathalyzers to monitor compliance.
  • RAND also found that state controlled–as opposed to privately operated–liquor stores are much safer and more protective against alcohol related criminal activity.

I believe that these are sensible and nonpartisan initiatives that all concerned citizens could support.  I encourage everyone to consider these policies and to encourage your elected representatives to advocate on their behalf.  Our society and especially our children will very likely be safer and healthier for your efforts.

Send along questions and comments, and thanks for following.