Five Years After the “Super Drunk” Law

Has Michigan’s “Super Drunk” Law Made the Roads any Safer? 

Five years ago Michigan passed the “super drunk” law, which doubled the penalties for people convicted of driving drunk with a BAC of .17 or more.  But now, half a decade later, one is forced to ask the question: are our roads any safer as a result? The answers, to be frank, aren’t what you’d hope they’d be.

While law enforcement and prosecutors across Michigan all say that they are in favor of the law, whether or not it deters drunk drivers, agreement doesn’t make it effective. The opinion seems to be that “super drunk drivers” need stiffer penalties, because they put the population at a greater risk. And it can be hard to argue with that, at least from a statistical perspective. But have the stiffer penalties actually deterred drivers from drinking to the point of being “super drunk”?

Well, the truth is that since the law went into effect, the number of alcohol-related crashes, and even the number of fatal crashes, has decreased only slightly. And that’s accounting for the entire state of Michigan. If you want the exact numbers, it’s a 5% reduction in alcohol-related crashes, and a 12% decrease in fatal crashes. So, not exactly major.

But, not negligible either. But now the question remains: did the decrease in drunk driving related accidents happen as a direct result of the “super drunk” law? Or was it, like the slow reduction in general drunk driving over the last decade, a result of better awareness campaigns and public education?

Over all, police in Michigan have written fewer “super drunk” tickets in recent years, which could be seen as the result of the stiffer penalties working as deterrent. But the reality is, that over the last few years, there have been numerous budget cuts to police departments all over Michigan. Which means fewer officers out on the roads. Which means fewer officers available to make arrests. So which is it?

Another factor to consider, is that an overall reduction in drunk driving related tickets and accidents doesn’t mean that every county saw a reduction. Take, for example, Ingham County. While we saw the number of “super drunk” arrests go down significantly between 2011 and 2014, from 380 to 257, there was actually a rise in alcohol-related car crashes, which went from 232 to 274.

In truth, it is unlikely that the doubling of fines, jail time, and community service requirements for super drunk drivers makes all that much difference in the big picture. But since no one can definitively prove it, one way or another, we may never know…. What do you think?

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Posted in Michigan Drunk Driving, Super Drunk
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