If DUI Policy Isn’t Saving Lives, What Is It Accomplishing?


Yesterday while guest hosting the Scott Hennen Show, I had the opportunity to do a couple of interviews related to new proposals for DUI laws here in North Dakota. The first interview was with Bakken Beacon/Great Plains Examiner Dale Wetzel who covered a press conference with Governor Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and state Rep. Kim Koppelman where new DUI policy was announced.

The obvious impetus for this was the tragic death of a West Fargo family due to a drunk driver earlier this year (the family was from Koppelman’s district and relatives attended the press conference), but Wetzel notes that the officials on hand admitted that this new law probably wouldn’t have stopped those deaths.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS2ZIw6279s&w=640&h=480]

I also interviewed Rep. Koppelman, and I asked him about concerns that the “get tough” approach to the DUI issue will only cost a lot more tax dollars (not to mention a lot more law enforcement/court time) without actually saving lives. Rep. Koppelman told me that he’s sensitive to that argument, but thinks this law will help.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylJXbTGvDQs&w=640&h=480]

I’m not sure I agree with Rep. Koppelman. We all want safer roads, but despite a 53% increase in DUI arrests since 2001, alcohol-related deaths and traffic accidents haven’t changed much (which I pointed out in a post yesterday). If anything, they’ve gone up slightly (though, to be fair, overall traffic in ND has gone up as well).


If “get tough” DUI laws aren’t saving lives, and preventing traffic accidents, then what exactly are we accomplishing?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • headward

    The law makes the sheep, erm, voters feel good and reelect the politicians that proposed it. I find it interesting that the state doesn’t go after the local governments for restricting cab services in cities. Nobody seems to talk about that. Try to get a cab in Williston with only one provider.
    The increase of DUI arrests will increase since 2001 because of the reduction of BAC from 0.10 to 0.80. Also the increase in accidents with alcohol related is because they include any accident if anybody had any alcohol no matter the amount. The gathering of these stats are very biased to push the prohibition movement.

    • two_amber_lamps

      The law also helps deal with that terrible surplus we have in state government… tax dollars!

  • Flamejob5

    “Passion governs, and she never governs wisely.”

    ~ Benjamin Franklin

  • matthew_bosch

    Why don’t we just make alcohol illegal…oh wait.
    Substance abusers/addicts will continue despite harsh legislation. The root of these problems are in the family unit.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Well, to be fair, this situation isn’t quite the same as the gun control issue. They aren’t trying to address drunk driving by banning, or limiting access to, alcohol.

      But I’m still not convinced this approach can work.

      • matthew_bosch

        I certainly don’t have a problem with harsh punishment. But threats of harsh punishment doesn’t always equate to prevention, especially with issues of substance abuse.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I think the knee-jerk reaction to these situations is always “get tough.” And then we have a competition to see who can get the toughest, all without measuring the problem with the proper metrics.

          If getting tough doesn’t lower DUI fatalities, what have we done exactly other than spend a lot of taxpayer dollars?

          • matthew_bosch

            Agree. I’m willing to wager that if this law passes, it will have no effect on lowering DUI fatalities.

            Time and money would be better spent discussing substance abuse, genetic predispositon to substance abuse, depression/anxiety leading to substance abuse and other mental disorders, which may be treated by a doctor/legal drugs.

          • yy4u2

            It increases some tax funded agency’s budget and staff all the while giving the person(s) responsible for that some false sense of power which in turn gives those that don’t see this for what it is a false sense of security.

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    I think we should just go after the social drinker who’s only a moderate risk to cause an accident. That will really show them that we’re not serious about saving lives.

  • Lianne

    If the purpose behind this law is to create an impact of the seriousness of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; then hit ‘em hard. I want their vehicular privilege removed for life. I would agree that might be a bit too harsh and would compromise to one year for the first offense and lifetime after that. Now, someone suggested a breathalyzer devise being installed in the vehicle, even a camera, GPS etc. First question is who is going to be monitoring the cameras 24/7? Second, would the car be in impound till the equipment was installed and paid for by the one convicted of the charge?
    I hear from many that we neeed to be compassionate and not be that hard on them. Why? The driver has NO compassion or respect for your life.

  • nimrod

    Creating new laws or restrictions in response to tragedy is nearly always a bad idea. I realize victims get some satisfaction having a new law named after them, but most of the time, had the new law been in place, the tragedy still would have taken place.
    I am not convinced that a first time offender should get jail time. I am also not convinced that increasing any fines in this state is warranted. Some DUI’s should probably be punished more severely than others. I think a person who passes out in a parked car shouldn’t be punished as harshly as someone driving the wrong way on divided highway. Reaction politics is a feel good Democrat thing, we in North Dakota are better than that.

  • NDConservative2011

    I was curious enough to check out the statistics regarding drunk driving arrests, deaths, and either increases or decreases in the percentages and found the following information for Minnesota and North Dakota.
    Minnesota has approximately “8” times our population with 5,344,861 citizens compared to North Dakota with just under 700,000 citizens.
    Minnesota in 2011 had 111 drunk driving deaths compared to 66 in North Dakota. If you take the population percentages, the deaths in Minnesota should compare at 528 deaths to the 66 in North Dakota.
    North Dakota had an increase in DUI arrests of 53% with actual DUI arrests of 5937 compared to 30,000 in Minnesota, but take the percentages in population, Minnesota should equate to 47,496 arrests. And while the percentages of DUI arrests in North Dakota has risen dramatically, Minnesota has had a 40% drop in arrests over the past 10 years.
    Minnesota takes a much tougher stance on drunk driving with some of the tougher laws in the nation. Minnesota does have a section in their law which allows the state to confiscate a DUI offenders vehicle in some cases on their first DUI offense.
    I guess it begs the question, does Minnesota’s tougher DUI laws make the difference in their much lower percentage of deaths and arrests?
    I’m really not sure what the anser is, but we need to take the drunken killers off our streets and highways.

    • headward

      Maybe Minnesota doesn’t have more of the issue because of the lack of separating beer and wine from other goods sold. Does people in Minnesota drive less miles than North Dakotans? How many Minnesotans were arrested in ND for DUI and vice versa?
      Montana might be a better comparison.

    • Thresherman

      I hate to break it to you but your analysis is flawed. MN has a far greater proportion of it’s populace living in metro areas and since DUI is a traffic offense and not a general offense, any comparision between the states should have miles driven per capita, availability to public transportation or taxi services and other factors relating to rural verses metro to make it an even comparision rather than just based on population and then concluding that the difference in laws account for the imbalance.

  • spud

    This is an issue we can debate to death but truth is will we ever get ahead of the problem. I doubt it. I have no reason not to like or dislike this bill but in end if all we produce is more money for state coffers is that an answer? Can one ever prevent the tragedy that happened in the above case. How can you stop someone from drinking himself beyond legal limits. He could be at home drinking a twelve pack or better how do you stop that. Maybe he has never even had a traffic ticket before. You can’t always be there to pick some one up to prevent a accident or tragedy.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    Many laws are created because the politician cannot be seen to do nothing. Even if the law will do nothing, from the politician’s perspective it is better to write a useless law than to admit it will do nothing.

    One thing that shocked me when I moved to North Dakota was how casually people take drunk driving. Our culture sees no problem with someone driving away from the bar when they can barely walk. Stronger laws will not fix the culture.

  • bigdaddybernie

    While you’re at it . . . . let’s make PROSTITUTION a felony !

  • awfulorv

    I wonder if authorities regularly examine the cell phones of drivers in fatal accidents, to determine if they were texting at the time of the fatality. And, if not, why not? Just a guess but, I’d bet texters are involved in a high percentage of accidents. Of course we wont be reading much of them because texting doesn’t, at this time, carry the stigma, nor the potential profit that drunk driving does. But that will change abruptly when a horrific accident, lets say a school bus with twenty fatalities,most of them children, which is waiting to happen round the next curve, occurs.

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      Well if texting were a major problem we would have seen an increase in accidents. After all texting caught on like no other trend. One year very few texted and the next it seemed like EVERYONE texted.

      My theory is that texters would be doing something else to distract them if they weren’t texting.