There is no question that impaired driving is a major public health threat.
In the United States alone, impaired driving accounts for more than 12,000 fatalities a year (about 40 percent of all traffic-related fatalities) and well over 250,000 injuries annually. Despite repeated public service announcements, greater use of field sobriety tests, and tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, impaired driving still accounts for an estimated one out of every ten arrests made in the United States (over 112 million alcohol-related driving offenses per annum). In real terms though, this is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2010 alone, surveys showed an estimated 4 million U.S. adults admitting to impaired driving at least once that year though most are never caught or convicted.
But why is impaired driving so common? Virtually every driver is well aware of the potential consequences of impaired driving, whether it involves getting into a serious accident or being arrested for impaired driving. Every student driver is obliged to learn about traffic laws relating to alcohol abuse along with numerous public service announcements on television, radio, and in print. Unfortunately, actual research tends to show that none of these attempts at educating the public are really that effective in curbing potentially harmful behaviour.
While we are bombarded with warnings about the dangers of impaired driving, smoking, substance abuse, or poor nutrition, making people aware of these risks doesn't necessarily lead to them making different choices in their lives. When it comes to impaired driving in particular, experimental research suggests that exposure to messages about responsible drinking may actually increase the likelihood of impaired driving under certain circumstances.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.