|Drunk driving is even a problem in France.|
"Offenders in 24/7 Sobriety can drive all they want to, but they are under a court order not to drink. Every morning and evening, for an average of five months, they visit a police facility to take a breathalyzer test. Unlike most consequences imposed by the criminal justice system, the penalties for noncompliance are swift, certain and modest. Drinking results in mandatory arrest, with a night or two in jail as the typical penalty.
The results have been stunning. Since 2005, the program has administered more than 7 million breathalyzer tests to over 30,000 participants. Offenders have both showed up and passed the test at a rate of over 99%.
Inevitably, a few offenders try to beat the program by drinking just after a successful breathalyzer test, with the idea of not drinking too much before their next one. But people with repeat convictions for driving under the influence don’t excel at limiting themselves to “just a few beers.” They quickly learn that the best way to succeed in 24/7 Sobriety is to avoid alcohol entirely.
The benefits of the program aren’t just confined to road safety. In a 2013 paper in the American Journal of Public Health, Beau Kilmer of the Rand Corp. and colleagues found that counties using 24/7 Sobriety experienced not only a 12% drop in repeat drunken-driving arrests but also a 9% drop in domestic-violence arrests. Unlike interventions that only constrain drinking while driving, the removal of alcohol from an offender’s life also reduces the incidence of other alcohol-related crimes.
Why do repeat offenders change their behavior in response to relatively modest incentives? Stephen Higgins of the University of Vermont addressed this question in his pioneering work on the treatment of drug addiction. In a widely cited 1991 paper in the American Journal of Psychiatry, he showed that, although his patients continued using cocaine in the face of great harm to their families, livelihoods and physical health, they could still be induced to refrain from it when promised a small reward, like $10 for a negative urine test. The reward was relatively trivial, but it was unlike other potential consequences because it was both certain and immediate.
It turns out that people with drug and alcohol problems are just like the rest of us. Their behavior is affected much more by what is definitely going to happen today than by what might or might not happen far in the future, even if the potential future consequences are more serious."