This week, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in partnership with Responsibility.org released a report, High-Risk Impaired Drivers: Combating a Critical Threat, which emphasizes the need for a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing the pervasive problem of High-Risk Impaired Drivers (HRIDs). HRIDs are impaired driving offenders who are likely to drive with a BAC of .15 g/dL or higher repeatedly, often due to a combination of drugs and alcohol. These drivers cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually and are resistant to changing behavior despite sanctions, treatment, or education.
The approach outlined in this report centers around involving practitioners from many disciplines collaborating to identify the root cause of an offender’s behavior and then determining what sanctions should be administered in what is referred to as individualized justice. This approach may include alcohol/drug monitoring technologies, transdermal alcohol testing, intensive supervision that holds the offender accountable, and individualized treatment and aftercare. Individualized justice is now identified by criminal justice experts as being more effective at deterring HRIDs than the traditional legislative response of heavy fines and incarceration.
A few key takeaways from this report:
- Alcohol-impaired fatalities accounted for 29% of all U.S. motor vehicle fatalities in 2018, the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA began reporting alcohol data. This equates to 10,511 people losing their lives in motor vehicle crashes involving at least one driver with a BAC of .08 or higher.
- Drugs—both legal (including prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as cannabis in some states) and illegal—are playing an increasingly more prevalent and dangerous role in motor vehicle crashes. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of fatally injured drivers that tested positive for drugs increased from 28% to 44%.
- All motorists who drive impaired pose a hazard to themselves and others but the greater the level of impairment the higher the crash risk. Sixty-six percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2018 had BAC levels at or above .15. These impaired drivers are involved in more than 60% of the alcohol-impaired driving deaths each year.
- Drivers with BACs of .08 or higher, who were involved in fatal crashes, were also 4.5 times more likely to have prior convictions for DUI than drivers with no alcohol (9% and 2%, respectively). These repeat offenders cause about one-third of all impaired driving deaths annually, a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged for years.
- Local DUI task forces, such as the York County Target 25 Program, are taking on high-risk impaired drivers with new approaches. Target 25 deals with the 25 percent of the county’s docket that are repeat offenders (hence the program name) and has reduced the occurrence of pretrial recidivism for impaired drivers by more than 90 percent.
- Working collaboratively, we can break the dangerous and deadly cycle of recidivism and ultimately put an end to impaired driving fatalities on our nation’s roadways. Doing so requires moving away from a conviction-centered approach to an individualized justice approach that focuses on getting to the heart of the HRID’s abuse of alcohol and/or other substances.