Drinking-and-Driving in America: A Test of Behavioral Assumptions Underlying Public Policy

David J. Houston, Lilliard E. Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Since the 1980s, states have increasingly used sanctions to deter people from drinking-and-driving, but the effectiveness of these policies is questionable. The use of sanctions as policy tools rests on deterrence theory, but little is known about the appropriateness of its behavioral assumptions for the group targeted by policy the drinking-driver. Employing a national survey of 4,008 respondents, we use logistic regression analysis to examine perceptions of punishment costs, the importance of individual versus societal costs, and policy preferences related to drink-driving. It was found that the perceptions of the punishment costs of drinking-and-driving are not consistent with basic hypotheses of deterrence theory. The results suggest that policies based on deterrence theory are likely to be least effective for the main target of these policies (frequent drink-drivers) and are likely to be unnecessary for non-drink-drivers. An alternative set of behavioral assumptions is provided that more closely fit the results obtained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-64
Number of pages12
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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