More Of The Same Won’t Fix North Dakota’s DUI Problem

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Over the last year, North Dakota’s Fargo-centric media has hyped a couple of tragic DUI accidents. Now, on the basis of that hype, there are several proposals heading to the legislative session to “fix” the DUI problem.

They range from the wacky (state Senator Tim Mathern wants the licenses of DUI offenders branded) to the extreme (state Rep. Ed Gruchalla wants huge increases in fines and jail time) to legislation proposed by state Rep. Kim Koppleman, announced yesterday, which while more reasonable than these other suggestions is still unlikely to make much of a difference.

Koppelman’s legislation, backed by Governor Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, would impose mandatory jail sentences on first-time DUI offenders and require participation in a 24/7 sobriety program which requires offenders to report to law enforcement twice a day for breathalyzer tests.

The sobriety program is already in place for repeat DUI offenders.

Yet, despite a ramp-up in DUI enforcement (as Governor Dalrymple noted at yesterday’s press conference, DUI arrests are up 53% since 2001), and despite tough new policies already in place such as the sobriety program, alcohol-related traffic fatalities have remained both relatively low and static:

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There’s been slight growth, but you need to remember that this is in the context of a dramatic increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled in North Dakota (per the DOT).

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Nobody likes to see people die, especially from something as eminently preventable as drunk driving. But the world is an imperfect place, and we’re talking about dozens of death a year. How much lower can we really expect to take that number?

Increased enforcement isn’t making much of a difference. We’ve increased arrests by 53% over the last decade with little impact. Increasing the severity of punishments, too, hasn’t made much of a difference. The 24/7 sobriety program imposed previously by the legislature hasn’t seemed to deter much of anything, nor has past requirements for alcohol counseling.

Maybe it’s time for a different approach. Instead of throwing more tax dollars away on enforcement and sobriety programs, how about a safe ride home program? All the tax dollars we spend on DUI check points and sobriety programs could probably be put to better use, if we’re going to spend tax dollars at all, on subsidizing free cab rides for the inebriated.

Our focus, after all, should be on saving lives not building up law enforcement budgets. And it’s clear that, so far, more arrests and more punishment isn’t working.

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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. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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