Study outlines possible ways to keep drunk drivers off the road

Ending so-called ''happy hours,'' when liquor by the drink is sold at reduced prices, could be a major deterrent to drunk driving, says the author of a newly revised study.

H. Laurence Ross, chairman of the sociology department at the University of New Mexico, suggests that the increased use of police roadblocks to check for drunk drivers might also be an effective means to curb drunk driving.

Holding that ''harsh penalties for those who are caught,'' such as mandatory jail sentences, are not the answer to the drunk-driving problem, he concludes that what is needed is better enforcement including ''swifter and more certain punishment.''

He notes that wherever drunk-driving laws are strictly enforced, compliance is much greater than in those areas where such laws are less rigidly enforced.

Professor Ross's analysis of the results of various programs around the world aimed at preventing drunk driving was partly underwritten by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), based in Washington, D.C.

He notes that drunk drivers ''do not expect to be caught.'' Roadblock testing , which he describes as ''one of the most promising innovations'' involves the ''threat of probable apprehension for the driver who believes that he can drink and drive without giving cause for police to suspect him of violation.''

Noting that the majority of liquor-related traffic accidents occur during nighttime hours, he views steps to discourage excessive drinking during those hours as vital. Banning happy hours, which tend to entice people to consume more liquor than they might otherwise, is an approach now gaining favor in more and more communities, he says.

The New Mexico professor, a member of the International Committee on Alcohol, Drugs, and Traffic Safety, suggests that consideration also might be given to requiring taverns, bars, and lounges to provide free snacks to customers ordering liquor by the drink.

''The effects of alcohol are importantly offset by the consumption of food,'' thus lessening the likelihood of drunk driving, Professor Ross says.

Another potential means of preventing liquor-related crashes, he suggests, involves ''taxing liquor-by-the-drink sales'' to pay for low-cost public transportation during evening and nighttime hours to get drinkers, who might otherwise drive, home safely.

Professor Ross, appearing in Boston on behalf of his newly released book, ''Deterring the Drinking Driver,'' emphasizes that ''making cars and highways safer for all drivers, both to reduce the likelihood of crashes and to make crashes less injurious when they do occur,'' must be given greater attention.

''A disturbing element of some current efforts to combat drunk driving,'' he asserts, focuses solely on the severity of punishing the offender. They ''overlook the issue of whether that punishment will be effective.''

''Based on the best research of which I am aware, a more effective approach couples widespread, well-publicized enforcement with more and swifter, but reasonable, punishment - such as loss of (driving) license - for first offenders ,'' he contends.

Fatal road crashes of all types, including those involving drunk drivers, he suggests, could be prevented through the use of air bags and other safety devices, and the removal of obstructions, such as trees, along the edge of roadways.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.