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None More For the Road

The Centers for Disease Control reports that drunk driving is down. In fact, way down: a 30% drop in the last three years.

In the longer term, fatalities related to drinking and driving have dropped nearly 70% since 1982, from 26,000 to 11,000. Adjusted for population growth, that means that something like 20,000 people a year aren’t being killed who would have been had nothing changed.

The Washington Post suggests three reasons for the drop: more attentive law enforcement, the raising of the national drinking age to 21, and the lousy economy, which has people drinking at home instead of in bars and restaurants.

I think that misses the big reason for the drop: drunk driving is much less socially acceptable than it used to be. There’s no social penalty for leaving your car and taking a cab home — in fact, in certain situations its de rigueur. Designated drivers haunt the buffet at almost every party, and people who decide not drink are subject to less social pressure to come on, have one more. Bars and restaurants band together to provide rides for the overindulgent.

This adjustment of attitude — inspired, at least in part, by more rigorous law enforcement — is a huge cultural change. And ultimately, problems like drunk driving have to be addressed at a cultural level.