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July 18, 2012

"Punishment and Recidivism in Drunk Driving"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper on SSRN by Benjamin Hansen on a topic I always find of interest. Here is the abstract:

Traditional economic models of criminal behavior have straightforward predictions: raising the expected cost of crime via apprehension probabilities or punishments decreases crime. I test the effect of harsher punishments on deterring driving under the in‡fluence (DUI).

In this setting, punishments are determined by strict rules on Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and previous offenses.  Regression discontinuity derived estimates suggest that having a BAC above the DUI threshold reduces recidivism by up to 2 percentage points (17 percent). As receipt of previous DUI violations increases future penalties for drunk driving, this is consistent with Beckerian models of criminal activity.  However, enhanced penalties for aggravated DUI also reduce recidivism by an additional percentage point (9 percent), despite the fact that the enhanced punishments only affect the current penalties. This is consistent with models of bounded rationality for offenders, wherein expectations of future punishments are based upon previous punishments experienced.

If I understand this abstract, I think the take away is that tougher drunk driving punishments reduce recidivism.  If this is right, it confirms my hope and belief that drunk driving is one arena in which general and specific deterrence may work relatively well and it serve to reinforce my belief that, despite the general harshness of modern American punishment schemes, we still can tend to be too lenient on a few offenses we can reasonably seek to deter.

July 18, 2012 at 01:41 PM | Permalink


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This has broad applicability to other legal crimes where mens rea has no bearing on conviction. Take jay walking and speeding. These are also leading contributory factors to roadway fatalities. We could end both crimes if we merely threatened to destroy peoples lives with severe enoungh fines and jail time for not crossing at the corner or driving a single mile over the limit. Or the drug war, if we escalate the penalties enough,we can eliminate illegal drug usage and dealing. Despite the general harshness of modern American punishment schemes, we still can tend to be too lenient on a few offenses we can reasonably seek to deter.

I don't agree with Prof Berman or the conventional wisdom that tougher penalties are the solution to the problem of DUI. Suspension of licenses and impoundment or outright seizure of the vehicles of the offender would be vastly cheaper be more effective at reducing or removing the hazard from the roadway than any fine or punishment.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Jul 19, 2012 5:23:16 PM

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Posted by: dui penalties | Sep 10, 2012 5:44:43 AM

Drunk driving accidents are an insidious epidemic in the U.S., particularly since the dangers of getting behind the wheel while intoxicated are so well known and so easily avoided.


Posted by: Bren | Sep 22, 2012 12:55:36 AM

Drunk driving has been a usual scene outside, in the streets. We really should be strict about this because of the fact that driving under the influence will result into an accident that doesn't only involve the driver but also some other innocent people.

Posted by: criminal attorneys simi valley | Sep 29, 2012 3:02:15 AM

Driving under the influence of alcohol should have a strict policy in order for driver's to avoid drinking while driving. In case of accident we can ask help from drink driving lawyers about legality of our consequence.

Posted by: balmain dui lawyers | Oct 19, 2012 10:06:51 AM

A DUI is no laughing matter. I myself, as well as many friends were charged with DUI in Pennsylvania. It was one of the worst experiences in my life. I found a lawyer who had a lot of experience with PA Drunk Driving Laws and he was able to get some of the charges dropped. I am very lucky that I did not kill anyone or myself.

Posted by: Mike Cornelia | Oct 24, 2012 10:04:26 AM

I agree with Mike, DUI's are extremely serious and the punishment needs to match the crime.

Posted by: Naegle Law | Oct 24, 2012 4:22:20 PM

Though the concept of rational decision making after one has already consumed enough alcohol to be legally impaired is an interesting one, I would be very interested in Hansen's methodology. It is simply hard to believe that a drunk who is intent upon driving will first weigh the potential consequences of a DWI conviction before getting behind the wheel. In over 20 years as a criminal defense lawyer, I have never encountered this thought process.

Posted by: Raleigh DWI Lawyer | Nov 8, 2012 12:33:10 PM

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Posted by: dui defense | Nov 16, 2012 4:20:30 AM

Very nice post. Right once losing those initial few pounds and patting myself on the rear, I born right into recent habits. I don't understand why. Some crooked, psychological reasonably mind game that I vie with myself, I suppose.

Posted by: Shush Manchester | Oct 23, 2013 6:25:51 AM

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