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The Debate Over Effectively Lowering OWI Rates

Every day across the United States, around 2,800 drivers are arrested for drunk driving. It’s a nationwide problem, but each state in the nation chooses to tackle it differently. Are some states doing a better job than others?

Did you know that there are only eight states in the United States whose DUI/OWI laws are less strict than Michigan? Michigan is number 43 on a list detailing states with the most strict DUI/OWI laws (number one being Arizona) and least strict laws (number 51 being South Dakota; there are 51 because the list includes Washington D.C.).

Detroit in particular has had its fair share of tragic and alarming OWI incidents in 2018. In early June, a young off-duty Detroit police officer was arrested for drunk driving in his personal vehicle — with his firearm. In late August, a Detroit fire marshal was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in his city-issued vehicle. Most tragically, a mother was charged in October for a crash that resulted in the ejection of her infant from the vehicle. Miraculously, the child was saved by nearby good Samaritans who witnessed the crash, and is expected to survive.

Would introducing stricter laws in Michigan lead to lower rates of driving while intoxicated?

In 2016, 32,610 Michigan drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. In comparison, Arizona (the strictest state) arrested around 25,000 drivers in 2016 for driving while intoxicated. There’s a difference in numbers there, but it’s not as extreme as you might expect from the two states’ drastically different DUI/OWI laws.

When looking at the numbers, there isn’t a strong correlation between the leniency of DUI laws and the number of DUI-related deaths within each state. This article from Reuters compares data from all 50 states and goes into detail if you’re interested. The surprising conclusion Reuters points to? Drinking and driving stems back to a single problem to address: drinking.

What a lot of laws don’t take into account is how drunk drivers tend to repeat their habit without getting caught by law enforcement. In fact, the average drunk driving has driven intoxicated at least 80 times before their first arrest. Perhaps this means states, including Michigan, need to take a different approach to drunk driving besides harsher punishments after the fact.

Studies have found that tough alcohol laws implemented by the state may actually do a better job lowering fatalities from intoxicated accidents than tightening up existing DUI punishments. Forcing drinkers to make more responsible choices or have less access to alcohol means less people get behind the wheel drunk in the first place.

So yes, Michigan could stand to strengthen its DUI punishments to keep repeat offenders off the road and deter new offenders. But what communities and lawmakers should look at is the culture and law surrounding alcohol consumption in the first place. If you’re interested in learning more about Michigan liquor laws, check out this website.

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