Drunk driving is one of the most frequent crimes in North America. Yet, initiatives to implement effective strategies to curb this killer remain largely unfunded or underfunded—like MADD—by private and public donations and fundraisers. While whole courts in Canada and United States do nothing but prosecute impaired driving offences, little is aimed at prevention.

Every 53 minutes someone in USA is killed while driving drunk, while driving with a drunk driver, or hit by a drunk driver. That is 27 American deaths due to drunk driving every day. Every ninety seconds an American is injured by a drunk driver.

Drunk driving laws make it illegal in North American states and provinces to drive with a blood alcohol count at or above 0.08%. Yet road crashes continue to be the number one cause of death of teens.

If you are a young driver under twenty-one, the rules are even more stringent than those considered adult drivers. Zero tolerance laws make it illegal for anyone under twenty-one to drive after consuming any alcohol. Laws that forbid drinking under twenty one in all 50 states and DC have made a major difference in highway safety. Tens of thousands of lives have been saved by the implementation of zero tolerance, as it is not just legally impaired drivers that cause accidents. Approximately 20% of crashes are caused by drivers who would have passed sobriety testing because they were well under the legal limit specified by the Criminal Code limit of .08%. Even though it is not illegal, buzzed driving (i.e., drinking, but not inebriated according to the Criminal Code) also impairs your senses, judgement and reaction time.

Other programs besides zero tolerance have proven effective in cutting down on drunk driving. RIDE programs or sobriety checkpoints let police stop vehicles at specific, highly visible sites to check for driver impairment. Breathalyzer tests may be administered if police suspect a driver is intoxicated. While these programs are effective, there is simply not enough staff to make this widespread enough. It is estimated that the average driver will drive drunk eighty times before he is caught. However, thanks to initiatives like RIDE, media campaigns, mandatory classes for repeat offenders and mandated ignition interlocks and impounding vehicles, the death rate due to drunk driving has dropped significantly over the past few years.

If a driver has been convicted of drunk driving, mandated ignition interlocks are ordered to be installed in the first-time convicted offender’s car. This measures alcohol on the driver’s breath, and the car will not start if the driver has a blood alcohol count above a certain level—usually 0.02%. Ignition interlocks are highly effective for preventing repeat offences. It has been suggested that once convicted, these mandated ignition interlocks should become permanent. The fact that between 50 to 75% of the people who have had their licenses revoked due to driving under the influence drive without a license lends support to this suggestion. Effective intervention programs include:

  • Counselling for those who drink and drive
  • Behavior Modification Therapy
  • Screening and pharmacological assessments Individual and group sessions
  • Sensitivity workshops
  • Drug Therapy
  • In-patient programs for those at high-risk-to-reoffend

Impaired driving offenders should be provided with not only an effective program, but also supervision. Programs that keep kids away from alcohol are seen as an effective way to curb young drunk drivers. This is because kids and teens who get involved with alcohol at a young age are seven times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related crash in their lifetime.

Positive Reinforcement Programs hold drunk drivers accountable for their behavior but also reward compliance and desired behavior. Positive reinforcement is often more effective and less costly than sanctions, punishment or supervision. It is a worthy goal to get impaired drivers off the roads, but an equal or greater amount of energy and money should be being spent on prevention of underage drinking and drinking in social situations.

There are also many myths about drunk driving that need to be dispelled. For example: black coffee or a cold shower will not “sober you up” so you can drive. Mass media campaigns like the ones run by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spread messages about the physical dangers and legal ramifications of drunk driving. Such campaigns are aimed at persuading people not to drink and drive. Started in Irving, Texas, MADD has branches in many places, including all across Canada. Started in 1980, MADD raises awareness about the dangers of drunk driving, supports the victims of drunk drivers, and focuses on preventing underage drinking. MADD has pressured governments to enact thousands of anti-drunk driving laws. They have also made designated drivers heroes in mainstream society. MADD gave rise to a splinter group: Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD). SADD offers powerful peer-to-peer anti-drinking education aimed at preventing alcohol use and abuse through prevention and intervention strategies. Doctors for Designated Drivers (DFDD) an anti-drunk driving organization is trying to increase the safety of other drivers and the general public with focus on the importance of designated drivers. DFDD works with members of the hospitality industry to promote designated drivers by offering free soft drinks and/or appetizers or discounted meals to designated drivers at large parties.

A UK program, Drinkaware, is aimed at reducing alcohol misuse and harm. Drinkaware is an independent charity, supported by voluntary donations from the alcohol industry and major UK supermarkets. It provides the public with researched-based facts about alcohol. Drinkaware works with the medical community, the government and the alcohol industry to achieve its goal.Scientific research has been able to show a correlation between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption.

Many jurisdictions now have restrictions on alcohol companies’ advertising contending that it has an effect on increased under-age drinking. Presently in America, alcohol advertisements can be placed in media only if 70% of the audience is over twenty-one. Alcohol advertising specially designed to appeal to under age drinkers is discouraged. Advertising must also encourage responsible drinking. No one initiative on its own is seen as effective in deterring drunk driving. However, initiatives are seen as more effective when used in conjunction with other drive sober programs.