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Research questions effectiveness of zero tolerance DUI laws

Research magazine Science Daily published a recent report claiming zero tolerance DUI laws have no effect on roadway safety or alcohol consumption.

An economist with Sam Houston State University, Darren Grant, analyzed data from traffic fatalities involving drivers under the legal drinking age. He reviewed 30,000 traffic accidents. He says across the board, considering both the number of accidents and blood alcohol levels recorded from drivers, there is no correlation with zero tolerance laws.

These laws started in the 90s as a mandate from the federal government. Congress threatened to withdraw funding from non-compliant states, meaning the laws quickly took hold across the country. 

The logic is essentially flawed according to Grant’s research. It would be logical to assume that underage drinkers are not permitted to have any alcohol in their systems before driving, they give up on attempting to maintain an “under the limit” blood alcohol. Instead, they drink freely, as they have nothing to lose at that point. 

However, Grant noticed no change in the overall blood alcohol level of drivers before and after zero tolerance laws were passed. There was a fairly consistent distribution of individuals in the low, moderate and high zones.

This data was consistent in a two-year span before and two-year span after the zero tolerance laws took effect. To Grant, this means the law has no effect at all on how much young people are drinking. The study, published in Contemporary Economic Policy, argues the laws have no effect whatsoever. 

Most developmental psychologists recognize that there is a certain level of brain development necessary to understand the consequences to actions. The infamous teenage attitude of no consequences may be more a product of actual brain development than social norms. 

These studies generally point to the conclusion that attempting to prevent bad decisions in teenagers with the threat of greater consequences shows little results. 

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