Does Punishment Deter DUI Drivers?

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jun 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

Almost every year the Georgia Legislature increases the punishment for driving under the influence.

The theory must be that increased punishment is a general deterrent to anyone who may consider driving while impaired. A general deterrent is a message a law sends to everyone.  When a punishment is associated with a crime, in theory, the punishment should deter people from breaking the law.

A specific deterrent is a punishment given to an individual to help convince him or her to obey the law in the future.

The problem with deterrence, insofar as DUI is concerned, is that it assumes that people are acting rationally, yet, alcohol impairs a person's judgment.

No punishment will cause an individual or society in general to change.  The era of prohibition proves this point.  If someone wanted to find a way to consume alcohol, he or she could find it.  In fact, prohibition caused more crime because of the illegality of the alcohol.  As a result, general deterrence failed miserably and caused more crime.

When a person is severely punished, their reaction to the punishment can have the opposite effect. When a sentence is unreasonable, it can cause the person being punished to respect the law and authority less.

A good example is the penalties for a Second DUI in Georgia.  If convicted the minimum sentence includes 30 days of community service, and weekly alcohol and drug counseling.  The person under sentence also will lose their driver's license.  Without a driver's license, how can someone fulfill their obligations?

A better approach is to focus on changing behavior.  It would seem that Accountability Courts, such as DUI Court, would be a good option.  The problem with this approach is that they are far too punitive.  

People in these programs as sanctioned for the smallest of mistake.  As a result, punishment becomes unreasonable and disrespected, and the person being punished is not deterred. 

The answer is to treat people medically. The court system is poorly designed to act as a medical provider.  However, a court can make treatment a condition of probation and enforce a person's attendance.

Ultimately, a person can only change when the desire to change is greater than the behavior that needs changing.  As Dave Ramsey said, you have to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” 

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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