Vice Squad
Monday, January 01, 2007
Becker and Posner on Drunk Driving...and Vice More Generally

In late December the Becker-Posner blog looked at drunk driving in the US. Professor Becker suggested that drunk driving is significantly underpunished. Judge Posner thinks it might make more sense just to punish those drunk drivers who actually cause harm to others:
If there are 1.4 million annual arrests for drunk driving, and if we assume realistically that this is only a fraction of the actual incidents of drunk driving, yet only 2,000 innocent people are killed by drunk drivers, then it follows that most drunk driving is harmless. Why then punish it with arrests and severe penalties? Why not just punish those drunk drivers who cause deaths or injuries to nonpassengers?
One point that I might add is that the probability of being arrested given that you drive drunk seems to be quite low in the US: perhaps a chance of 1 in 200. [Update: An analysis (99-page pdf) using more recent data, and the new "national" Blood Alcohol Content standard of .08, puts the likelihood that a drunk driver will be arrested in the US at about 2%.]

The Becker-Posner blog has become a leading source for vice policy analysis. The second half of 2006 has featured, in addition to the drunk driving commentary, the following topics:

Internet Gambling -- August 2006

Doping in Sports -- August 2006

Taxing Fat -- October 2006

Legalizing Polygamy -- October 2006

Advertising and Obesity of Children -- December 2006

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