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Punishment and Deterrence: Evidence from Drunk Driving

53 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2014  

Benjamin Hansen

University of Oregon - Department of Economics; NBER; IZA

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 2014


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 influence (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). Likewise having a BAC over the aggravated DUI threshold reduces recidivism by an additional percentage point (9 percent). The results suggest that recent recommendations to lower the BAC limit to .05 would save relatively few lives, while increasing marginal punishments and sanctions monotonically along the BAC distribution would more effectively deter the drunk drivers most likely to be involved in fatal crashes.

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Suggested Citation

Hansen, Benjamin, Punishment and Deterrence: Evidence from Drunk Driving (June 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20243. Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Hansen (Contact Author)

University of Oregon - Department of Economics ( email )

1285 University of ORegon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

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IZA ( email )

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