Alcohol-Impaired Driving and Perceived Risks of Legal Consequences.

Journal Article (Journal Article)


Driving while impaired (DWI) is a threat to public health. Codified legal sanctions are a widely implemented strategy to reduce DWI. However, it is unclear that sanctioning affects individual risk perceptions so as to deter alcohol-impaired driving.


Using survey data collected from individual drivers, police, and defense attorneys specializing in DWI in 8 U.S. cities, we investigated whether risk perceptions about legal consequences for alcohol-impaired driving, both the risk of being stopped if driving while alcohol-impaired and receiving specific penalties following a DWI, deter alcohol-impaired driving. First, we analyzed how different drivers' risk perceptions about being pulled over and facing criminal sanctions related to their self-reported alcohol-impaired driving in the year following the interview at which risk perceptions were elicited. Second, using data from an experimental module in which individual's risk perceptions were randomly updated by the interview, we analyzed how each driver's beliefs about his or her own future alcohol-impaired driving responded to randomly generated increases in the apprehension probability and sanction magnitude.


Higher probabilities as estimated by the individuals of being pulled over corresponded to less alcohol-impaired driving in both analyses. Conversely, there was no statistical relationship between perceptions of criminal sanctions for DWI and alcohol-impaired driving with 1 exception-a small significant negative relationship between duration of jail time following a DWI conviction and alcohol-impaired driving.


Perceptions regarding the threat of being apprehended for alcohol-impaired driving were related to actual self-reported driving, while perceived sanctions following a DWI conviction for DWI generally were unrelated to either actual self-reported alcohol-impaired driving or the person's estimate of probability that he or she would drive while alcohol-impaired in the following year. Increasing certainty of apprehension by increasing police staffing and/or conducting sobriety checks is a more effective strategy for reducing alcohol-impaired driving than legislating increased penalties for DWI.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Sloan, FA; McCutchan, SA; Eldred, LM

Published Date

  • February 2017

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 41 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 432 - 442

PubMed ID

  • 28056493

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC5272826

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1530-0277

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0145-6008

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1111/acer.13298


  • eng