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Punishment and Deterrence: Evidence from Drunk Driving

37 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2012 Last revised: 24 May 2013

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics; NBER; IZA

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 13, 2013


Traditional economic models of criminal behavior have straightforward predictions: raising the expected cost of crime via apprehension probabilities or punishments decreases crime. I test the effect of harsher punishments on deterring driving under the in‡fluence (DUI). In this setting, punishments are determined by strict rules on Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) and previous offenses. Regression discontinuity derived estimates suggest that having a BAC above the DUI threshold reduces recidivism by up to 2 percentage points (17 percent). As receipt of previous DUI violations increases future penalties for drunk driving, this is consistent with Beckerian models of criminal activity. However, enhanced penalties for aggravated DUI also reduce recidivism by an additional percentage point (9 percent), despite the fact that the enhanced punishments only affect the current penalties. This is consistent with models of bounded rationality for offenders, wherein expectations of future punishments are based upon previous punishments experienced.

Keywords: Recidivism, Punishment, Bounded Rationality, Law and Economics, Regression Discontinuity

JEL Classification: K4, I1, D8

Suggested Citation

Hansen, Benjamin mname, Punishment and Deterrence: Evidence from Drunk Driving (April 13, 2013). 7th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: or

Benjamin Hansen (Contact Author)

University of Oregon - Department of Economics ( email )

1285 University of ORegon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

NBER ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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IZA ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

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