High DUI Rates in America: An Evaluation

America’s Ludicrously High DUI Rate
Joshuah Rauch

Careful examination of America’s DUI rate leads to pitiful statistics. The decrease over the last 30 years fails to be enough. Increased public education falls short of elaborate acquittal paths criminal defense attorneys, who specialize in intoxicated driving, are afforded by the judicial system. The embarrassing rates speak for themselves.

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According to the CDC, 112 million drunk driving incidents occur each year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 2011). America’s DUI Rate is one the highest worldwide, despite increased laws and education, due to the loopholes in the court system and highly trained criminal defense attorneys. To appreciate how frequently people operate a vehicle while impaired, the legal limits for the United States need to be addressed.

All States except Michigan have a Blood Alcohol Concentration Limit (BAC) of 0.08 (Progressive Insurance Company , 2004). Compared to different countries, the United States has a very high BAC. For example, Sweden, Poland, Norway, and Greece have a BAC of 0.02 while Turkey, Thailand, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Peru, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, China, Denmark, France, Finland, Austria, Australia, Argentina, Venezuela, and the Philippines have a BAC of 0.05 (Brown-Forman, 2010). Countries such as Romania, Russia, Nepal, Hungary, Armenia, Columbia, Ethiopia, Brazil, and the Czech Republic have a zero tolerance policy, thus yielding a BAC of 0 (Brown-Forman, 2010). At a BAC level of just 0.03 a person starts to experience increased talking, excitement, and reaction time; while simultaneously experiencing decreased attention, judgment, and inhibition. It is easy to see why that in the United States, pilots are prohibited from flying any aircraft if alcohol has been consumed in the last 8 hours or if the pilot’s BAC is a 0.04, half the legal limit for operating a vehicle (Federal Aviation Regulations, 2005). The catch phrase “If you drink, don’t drive” is also easily understood because the early effects on the body are apparent after a BAC of much less than the United States legal limit.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded on September 5, 1980 by Candy Lightner when her daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver. According to the MADD website, its mission statement “provides grass roots leadership to create major social change in the attitude and behavior of Americans toward drunk driving” (MADD, 2014). Few would argue that MADD has been the driving force in increased legislation against drunk driving and also improved education regarding the effects of driving under the influence. Raising the minimum drinking age to 21, educating parents on the importance of keeping their children alcohol free through the Power of Parents, partnering with the national football league through game day initiatives, working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on “Driver Sober or Get Pulled Over” and providing no cost victim and survivor services are some of the successful endeavors that MADD has undertaken to combat drunk driving in America (MADD, 2014). Not that long ago, 25,000 was the average number of people killed each year, and this number is now down to about half of that with the current rate falling between 10,000 and 11,000. In 1949, when Margaret Mitchell, famous for writing Gone With The Wind, was killed by a drunk driver with an extensive drunk driving record, the prevailing attitude of the public was in favor of the driver (NPR, 2011). MADD has certainly been successful in dropping the rate of DUI deaths and aiding in shifting the public’s opinion of the victims who are injured or killed.

In South Carolina, the Sober or Slammer crackdown sought to greatly decrease and hopefully eliminate vehicle related accidents and deaths cause by drunk driving. Numerous state-wide checkpoints, manned by law enforcement, with the goal of catching people driving under the influence were put into place. The cell phone initiative, *HP, was also put into place to aid law enforcement by giving fellow drivers a quick way to notify authorities of a potential drunk driver. TV ads and radio commercials, combined with billboards and portable message boards, educated the public about the campaign. With the number one cause of vehicle accidents resulting in fatalities involving drunk driving, the campaign saw success with a decrease of 100 less deaths from driving under the influence (South Carolina Department of Public Safety , 2013). While this initially may seem like an effective decrease, further investigation gives way to websites such as DUIBlock.com that list where law enforcement will be conducting “random” checkpoints. A person can pay a yearly fee to have text alerts sent to them in real time as checkpoints are added or discovered. While the website states that there are not trying to help people who are drinking avoid the checkpoints, the ads on the page include links to DUI attorneys. It is hard to imagine why an individual would need to know where DUI checkpoints are if not driving under the influence, or at least slightly intoxicated (DUI Block, 2008-2014)

Practicing as a DUI attorney is quite lucrative. A quick drive down the highway or a flip through the yellow pages leads to a vast list of available options. The average cost of a DUI attorney is 2,500 dollars for the first offense (Esurance , 2014). A look at the first number addressed, 112 million annual drunk driving incidents, demonstrates the amount of available business to DUI attorneys. A newspaper article from July of 2013 in Los Angeles, California, addresses the loopholes in the law. The importance of a DUI defense lawyer is stressed and the phrase, “A skillful Los Angeles DUI attorney will review your case and look for even the slightest misstep by the arresting officer, in an effort to successfully resolve your pending DUI case” (Marketwired, 2013). There is no doubt after reading the article that the primary purpose of the DUI attorney is to find a technicality in which to exonerate the arrested party. Considering the CDC statistic is based upon actual guilty verdicts, the real rate of drunk drivers in America is much higher than the reported yearly rate of 112 million.

Not all states, however, are like California. South Dakota for example has a very strict DUI requirement. While previously boasting one of the worst DUI rates in America, the new conditions leave no room for grace. Repeat offenders are denied the right to even consume alcohol. This policy is called “South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program.” By testing individuals twice a day (by a breathalyzer), requiring ankle bracelets that detect alcohol use (to be worn at all times) twice a week urine tests and sweat patches that are worn and subsequently sent in, South Dakota has decreased its DUI rate by 33 percent. An additional bonus to the tax payers of South Dakota is these tests must be paid for by the guilty party (South Dakota DUI Program worth a look, 2013). Each breathalyzer test cost the individual one dollar, while the urine tests are five dollars; charging the guilty party a minimum of twenty-four dollars a week. The 24/7 Sobriety Program received a national CSG Innovations Award following the incredible results (Chavers, 2008).

Not all states are quick to adopt South Dakota’s strict DUI laws. Another example of a state offering an article in the newspaper detailing how to get out of a DUI is Massachusetts. According to the article entitled Survive A DUI, Massachusetts offers several ways to keep your driver’s license. A 30 day grace period, a work only license and an ignition interlock are options offenders have in order to keep driving even after a DUI. Although a letter from the guilty party’s employer is required before a restricted license is given, the typical 48 hour jail sentence is allowed to be conducted at night or on the weekend (Meurrow, 2007).

It comes as no surprise that several states are not eager to change to such strict rules as South Dakota, especially when law enforcement individuals are guilty. Take for instance Alaska’s own David Carlson. Although he is an Assistant District Attorney in Fairbanks, he was arrested twice in February 2010 alone for DUI. Elsewhere in Anchorage, Alaska, Supreme Court Judge Patrick McKay, was found guilty for DUI. Since even the people who are supposed to uphold the law find a DUI is acceptable, there is no wonder why Alaska has an extensive issue with drunk driving (In Case You Haven’t Heard , 2010). In Iowa, another state with a rather high DUI rate, 30 percent of high school students admit to driving a vehicle while either drunk or high while 35 percent admit to riding in a vehicle with a driver known to be drunk or high (Schootman, 1993).

Law enforcement and teenagers are not the only ones driving drunk. Josh Brent, a defensive lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, drove drunk and killed fellow player Jerry Brown. The suspension he faced of the first 10 games was seen as a “little severe” by many fans and even Cowboy owner Jerry Jones. Other notable football stars who have been involved in fatal drunk driving accidents are Donte Stallwoth and Leonard Little. All three of these players were back to playing football within a year. Apparently, killing another person while intoxicated is easily overlooked when the money made as a NFL star can buy a fabulous attorney who can navigate through the individual case and find a technicality to bring a dismissal of the charges (Smith, 2014).

The loopholes attorneys use include a distinctive vision test. The case of Robert Perkins, who had a blood alcohol level of .17 and five prior DUI convictions when he killed Cornell Royston, is simply disgusting. Perkins’ lawyer, Jane Gorte, was able to find an optometrist to evaluate his contact lenses and contrast sensitivity. Because the doctor determined his contacts were old and therefore affected his contrast sensitivity, his charges were decreased despite the fact he killed a man while having over twice the legal limit (Moss, 1987). California DUI attorney Lawrence Taylor is interested in training fellow colleagues in the art of DUI defense. Alabama boasts an organization called the National College for DUI Defense, which specializes in training lawyers on how to effectively contest DUI evidence offered by law enforcement. Imagine a police officer, who once arrested drunk drivers, turned attorney who now spends his days representing suspects. New Hampshire lawyer Bruce Dorner is just this man. After learning the intricacies involved, he now offers training on overcoming a DUI. He even promotes a driver’s license that would allow an individuals to have driving privileges to a job. Advice such as immediately asking for a lawyer and refusing to answer questions are some of the tips given by DUI lawyers. They also advise that unless there is a penalty for refusing a field sobriety test, do not take one. Refusing a blood alcohol test is also a tip given, since the breathalyzer test is easier to dispute. Law enforcement individuals who forget to ask suspects if they have a physical problem affecting or preventing completion of a field sobriety test such as diabetes, acid reflux medicine, cancer, or even if ethanol enhanced gasoline was recently used, can rest assured a DUI lawyer will have the evidence thrown out (Tebo, 2005).

Mothers Against Drunk Driving has certainly seen success in setting a national drinking age, exposing the true victims of drunk driving, and decreasing yearly fatalities of alcohol induced vehicular accidents. A few states such as South Carolina and South Dakota have implemented programs that have lowered the DUI rate, while most other states continue to have far too many DUI incidents. America features one of the highest worldwide blood alcohol concentration limits, yet continues to see exorbitant rates of drunk driving events. Considering every impaired driver is not caught, the rates are pathetically higher. As long as law-makers, sport stars, and the Average Joe continue getting away with driving intoxicated due to the flawed judicial system, money hungry lawyers will continue to profit from the travesty responsible for over 300 thousand accidents and 30 deaths each day in America.

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