Zero tolerance, zero effect: Stats show laws 'inert'

Sep 16, 2009

As college administrators, social scientists and law enforcement officials across the country continue to debate whether the drinking age should be 18 instead of 21, a Sam Houston State University economist challenges a related law: the "zero tolerance" policy.

Darren Grant says zero tolerance laws have zero effect.

In a paper forthcoming in the journal Economic Inquiry, he analyzed data from 30,000 fatalities in nighttime accidents involving drivers under 21.

"Both in terms of the number of accidents and the blood alcohol of the drivers in those accidents, the research consistently showed that zero tolerance laws had no effect," Grant said. "Other factors matter, but not these laws."

Zero tolerance laws became prevalent during the 1990s, when the U.S. Congress threatened to withhold highway funding from states that didn't comply.

Grant says the logic behind zero tolerance laws is suspect.

"The idea was, since drivers under 21 are not supposed to be drinking, you should be guilty of drunk driving if you are caught driving with any amount of alcohol in your system," Grant said.

"Because you must sacrifice more to comply with the law, we should
expect some people will just give up trying to satisfy the law and drink more," he said.

But Grant found this did not happen.

"Instead, among drivers involved in traffic accidents, there is the same fraction of , the same fraction of mild drinkers, the same fraction of nondrinkers," he said. "It's just not changing."

Grant also compared the blood alcohol distributions of involved drivers in the two years before zero tolerance laws were established in each state, and again in the two years after. The two distributions were also virtually identical.

"That's a sign that this law is essentially inert; if it's affecting the amount of drinking that people do, these distributions should look different," he said.
Grant's colleague at Sam Houston State and fellow , Donald Freeman, completed a similar study in 2007 that yielded similar results regarding a related that lowered the allowable blood alcohol limit for adult drivers. That paper was published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy.

Source: Sam Houston State University

Explore further: Why companies don't learn from their mistakes

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: 1 in 10 binge drinkers get on the road

Sep 01, 2009

(AP) -- One in 10 binge drinkers got behind the wheel the last time they drank heavily. And half of those drivers left from a bar, restaurant or nightclub after downing five or more drinks, a new study has found.

Recommended for you

Predicting human crowds with statistical physics

Feb 27, 2015

For the first time researchers have directly measured a general law of how pedestrians interact in a crowd. This law can be used to create realistic crowds in virtual reality games and to make public spaces safer.

Bribery 'hits 1.6 billion people a year'

Feb 27, 2015

A total of 1.6 billion people worldwide – nearly a quarter of the global population – are forced to pay bribes to gain access to everyday public services, according to a new book by academics at the Universities of Birmingham ...

Broken windows thesis springs a leak

Feb 27, 2015

The broken windows theory posits that minor misdemeanors, like littering or graffiti spraying, stimulate more serious anti-social behavior. LMU sociologists now argue that the idea is flawed and does not ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

docknowledge
1 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2009
Maybe. But the issue is enforcement. 18's don't reason as well as 21's. If law enforcement is not capable of significantly limiting abuse at either age ... then the stats are largely useless.

Fix enforcement.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.