What if Drunk Driving is a Social Phenomenon?

Most of available literature on drunk driving, both on and off the internet, is full of articles that are heavy on data. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I mean. Many articles that one can find are heavy on statistics, and perceived correlations, but light on actual useful knowledge that can help combat drunk driving. While this humble writer applauds those who spend those countless hours working on collecting quantifiable metrics and increasingly large pools of numeric facts in an effort to increase the amount of knowledge we have on drunk driving (and these statistics are certainly valuable and necessary tools for us to save lives, just check out sr22insurance.net), maybe, just maybe, an important part of the answer to the problem drunk driving poses to society can be found in sociological, not mathematical, modes of thinking.

Speaking of statistics, here’s one for you: Approximately one-third of all fatal accidents involve a drunk driver. If we assume that accidents that involve a drunk driver are CAUSED by the fact that they were drunk (an important distinction, but an assumption I feel is safe to make), then that’s an astonishingly large percentage of accidents and fatalities that are, when it comes down to it, preventable. (Or, at least, more preventable than the other two-thirds of automobile accidents, which are “caused” by who knows how many other variables.) And, what’s more, authorities know it: I think I can speak both for you and I when I say that there’re more than enough “Stop Drinking and Driving” ads, billboards, and commercials out there . Then why aren’t see seeing drastic decreases in drunk driving? Depending on who you ask, there’s some sort of change in the frequency of drunk driving; many claim it’s increasing, while others point out that increasing efforts by organizations such as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) is making a difference where it counts, by decreasing the frequency of underage drunk driving. Whatever the case, my point is that we’re not seeing any DRASTIC change in the frequency. Why? There are many possible reasons, the most obvious of which is that patience, in this endeavor as in any other, is a virtue, and bringing about behavioral changes in any given population is a slow and gradual process. Is that the answer, then? Allow me to play devil’s advocate:

While the above point regarding patience and gradual change is a good one, there may be a way to speed up the process. Instead of firing facts indiscriminately at the population whose behavior you’re trying to change, why not target those that matter? Namely, those socialites who always seem to know everyone, who’re always the life of the party, who always seem to, somehow, profoundly influence the behavior of those around them. If we consider social connections as strands of silk in a spider’s web, then these people are the points where hundreds of strands intersect, many times more than the average. If persuading these types of people that drunk driving is unequivocally “uncool” or “stupid” (which it is!) means that they, in turn, make their opinion known to the countless others they know, then you’ve got a social epidemic on your hands: a social epidemic of responsible behavior that would cancel out the idea that drinking and driving is socially acceptable, no matter what social circles that idea hides.

Of course, I don’t mean to oversimplify the phenomenon of drinking and driving, nor dare I be so impertinent to claim: “It’s so much easier than everyone thinks!” Rather, my aim here is merely to present this idea to many of those who, perhaps, are unfamiliar with this paradigm of thought: that drunk driving, and its solutions, are essentially sociological in nature, grounded not in numbers and statistics, but rather in the ideas of how group consensus and the opinions of those that surround us color each and every one of our behaviors. While numbers and facts are bound to help persuade that rational part of us, even more important is that, after the usual social gathering at the bar on Friday night, group consensus is that it’s better to err on the side of caution and take the cab home.

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by Charles Hickman on SR22 Insurance
A bit behind the times

You're right that making drunk driving unfashionable is the way to reduce it - look at how smoking has declined. But you're wrong that there hasn't been a drastic change. Talk to someone 50 or over - drunk driving was pretty much accepted as inevitable before mid-century and even into the 1970s. Anti-DD campaigns have made a difference, and ignition interlock laws have reduced repeat offenses in states that enforce them. If you're going to think sociologically, you need to think in decades, not years.

Thank you for your angle on the subject Charles