The problem of drunk driving receives continuous, well-deserved attention. This is because drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs kill many people and are the cause for billions of dollars in medical bills, incarceration costs, lost job productivity, ruined families, damaged property, court costs, defense and prosecutorial costs and other related financial losses. This, by itself, may be old news, but what is new is the fact that more women are being arrested for DUI driving.
In the last 20 years, the number of women arrested for DUI has quadrupled. In the last ten years alone, female DUI arrests are up by almost 29 percent. At the same time, male DUI arrests have declined by some 7.5 percent.
There is any number of possible reasons for this increase in female DUI arrests. There now is a larger percentage of women driving as compared to several decades ago, more women are working, gender equality advances may come into play and there are any number of signs pointing to lifestyle changes that contribute to the statistical trend we are seeing.
The police also seem less tradition-bound, where the vestiges of old-time chivalry are mostly gone. Male officers of the past were less likely to arrest female DUI violators. They have also been reluctant to arrest and book mothers, knowing the impact such actions would have on the kids and families in general. Police are simply less likely to give DUI women a "pass," than in the past. Statistically, however, it seems that regardless of the underlying reasons, police are encountering more intoxicated female motorists. Men still outnumber women DUIs four to one, however.
One important consideration about women is that they are far more likely to have kids in their cars as opposed to their male counterparts. The implications for this are obvious, making it even more dangerous when a mom is driving drunk or under the influence of other intoxicants.
Some 15,000 people are killed nationwide by DUI drivers each year. In California, there are approximately 200,000 DUI arrests annually (which is probably just the tip of the iceberg) and there are some 30,000 DUI-related traffic collisions each year. Many of these DUI drivers are repeat offenders who have severe alcohol and/or drug addiction problems. And while the number of DUI-related fatalities have decreased by almost 57 percent since 1989, it is still a vexing problem for our society.
One would assume that the reduction in fatalities has come about as a result of an equal reduction in the amount of drunken driving offenders. It is hard to assert the 'cause and effect' dynamic in any event, but I believe the fatalities reduction is also influenced by significantly-improved vehicle safety features, the high level of seat belt compliance and highway design improvements.
The fact that women have become a larger contributor to the problem of DUI driving is certainly a matter of concern. It also causes speculation that other groups, like teenage drivers, may also follow suit. Public education, self-discipline, peer pressure and enforcement are key interventions to any such trends.
Art De Werk is the Chief of Public Safety in Ceres