Over the past week I have blogged about the amorality of drunk driving and critiqued some of the policies attempting to curb drunk driving. Drawing from behavioral economics research and the comments I received, I have drafted 4 ways to combat Drunk Driving. Finally, I included a one-way caveat about why this problem will remain difficult.
#1 Friends need to speak up. “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” is a great slogan and I have followed that slogan my entire life. However, most nights I am working late in the Center for Advanced Hindsight. Thus most nights I am not with my peers while they are drinking and potentially driving. I think a better slogan would be “Friends tell their friends that drunk driving is wrong.” I find myself always nodding and laughing to others’ stories of drunk driving, when I should be expressing my disapproval. Jonathan Haidt (author of The Righteous Mind) argues that gossip and social disapproval can help regulate morality.
#2 Clean Slate. One problem with drunk driving is that most people likely to offend have already offended and may have even been arrested. We need a way for people to say, “That was a mistake and I won’t do it again.” I am personally looking into this clean slate idea and hope to provide some clarity in the near future.
#3 Stigmatize. How to properly calibrate appeals and accomplish this will be difficult but we need to make drunk driving look disgusting rather than sexy (as I think some ad campaigns do). We can call on some of the smoking ads which made smoking seem less attractive and attractive people condemn smoking. Backlash may occur, but a systematic and well-funded experimental research program should discover something nuanced enough to work. This means the government needs to team up with researchers and conduct large-scale experiments. University researchers can come up with theories to guide policy, but policymakers need to calibrate these theories into efficacious policy.
#4 Remove the Fudge Factor. How many times have you heard people say “I am not drunk, I can drive.” No matter how much you try and convince them they are drunk, they protest. However, if you could show them via a breathalyzer that their blood alcohol content was above the legal limit, then people (even when drunk) might have a harder time justifying getting behind the wheel. Would mandatory breathalyzers at bars reduce drunk driving? It is an empirical question worth answering.
Another possibility is to adopt the Alcohol Anonymous practice of saying, “One drink is one drink too many.” If one could not drink period, then any drinking makes one cross the line. If there was a large public awareness campaign (integrated with alcohol companies’ ads) indicating that designated drivers do not drink one drink, this could potentially be effective.
A Final Caveat. Some readers used psychological research to claim that threats of punishment might be the only thing that will work. They argued, because people who drive drunk do not think they are endangering others, they do not think they are engaging in any moral violation. Thus if drunk driving is not seen as a moral violation then only the assurance of random checkpoints and breathalyzer tests will curb drunk driving. I think this speaks to my point. All drunk driving policy is shortsighted; it asks what could we do right now to reduce drunk driving. It does not consider the effectiveness of developing national moral standards or engaging in rigorous experimental research (though some does exist). However, as I have argued above, I think we can and need to transform drunk driving into more of a moral issue.
I want to share with you what appears to me like one of the most ill-advised anti-Drunk Driving campaigns ever created. Ironically, I was walking across the Duke quad on my way to the social psychology building when I passed these ads that so blatantly disregard basic social psychology.
The anti-Drunk Driving ads featured famous celebrities in mug shots and with tag lines such as “Billy Joe supports DUI” (lead singer of Green Day) and “Flo Rida supports DUI” (popular hip hop artist). Most of these were celebrities I personally liked, though there were a few I disliked (such as Paris Hilton).
Quick social psychology quiz! “If a celebrity who you think is the coolest person on the planet is doing something, will telling you about it reduce your likelihood to do it?” No. My immediate response to the Billy Joe ad was to defend my high school hero and downplay the moral wrongness of his drunk driving offense. For some people, these ads might even have made drunk driving seem like a rebellious way to connect with these celebrities.
If you want to reduce illegal alcoholic behavior, then you need to pair the behavior with an outgroup or person one does not want to associated with. This is what I think this campaign may have been trying to go for on some level (e.g. Paris Hilton) but failed to do so. By comparison, Wharton Professor Jonah Berger succeeded at this strategy. Together with his colleagues, he put posters up in undergraduate dorms that associated heavy alcohol consumption with graduate students. Since undergraduates generally wish not to be associated with graduate students, undergraduates’ heavy alcoholic consumption dropped. It is comforting to know that my graduate student outgroup can cause some good in this world.
See you next week for Part 3 of the Amorality of Drunk Driving.
Recently, the “choose-your-ride” car (pictured here) has been roaming around downtown Durham and Duke University. The car seeks to reduce drunk driving by posing a choice between a $20 taxi or $1,000 fine. At first glance, this seems like a good strategy and it may indeed do some good. However, the car seems to missing one important element and it is the topic of Dan Ariely’s new book: morality.
In “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty,” Ariely argues that morality matters. He explains how criminal behavior is not a simple cost-benefit analysis, and the threat of punishment only seems to work well when enforcement is nearly certain and extremely severe. Given that 300,000 of the Americans arrested for drunk driving every year are re-offenders, it seems that the threat and actual experience of consequences are not working so smashingly. Overall, drunk driving is rampant in the states. There are 900,000+ arrests a year. That’s arrest alone! The number of people driving drunk is much higher.
Drunk driving is not a niche offense; it is a social phenomenon that many see as a perfectly acceptable behavior. In movie The Hangover, Zach Galifinakas captures many American’s thoughts on drunk driving when he fondly remembers the night before and laughs it off saying, “Driving drunk, classic!” Many Americans simply feel no moral outrage with drunk driving, especially if they or their friends are the drivers. And what troubles me is that attempts like the “choose-your-ride” car do nothing to address this moral hole in the American conscience. According to Dan Ariely’s research on cheating, people cheat just as long as they can see themselves as good people. It’s no wonder people keep driving drunk, because society has done nothing to convince people that it is wrong.
Here are three specific ways this car fails to appeal to morality:
It makes it a choice. Think of other moral violations such as cheating in a marriage. For many, to even contemplate the idea of marital infidelity would be morally taboo. It should be the same with drunk driving. People engage in cost-benefit analyses for many actions, but when the action is in the moral domain this happens to a far lesser degree. When something is in the moral domain, hardline rules and concerns for one’s self-concept take over.
It puts a price on the crime. It turns a moral issue into a question of whether you want to pay $1,000 or if you can outwit the cops. According to the message sent by this car, you are not a bad person if you drive drunk. Instead, you are simply a person who is willing to pay a $1,000 fine.
It removes moral feelings. In chapter 9 of “The Upside of Irrationality,” Ariely discusses how thinking of situations like a math problem (rational thinking) can lead to less morality, because moral action is often driven by feelings. Here, the only feeling the car potentially activates is fear and the mathematical nature of the appeal might reduce any potential moral feelings people might have to begin with.
So what can we do?
Like with most socio-political issues, it is easy to criticize others’ solution and hard to put forth your own. Next week, I’ll attempt to put forth my own potential solutions to transform drunk driving into a moral issue. In the meantime, what do you think? Do you know people who chronically drive drunk? Can drunk driving be turned into something that is globally seen as morally detestable? If you have any solutions, ideas or articles you think would serve the blog, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to include them in part 2.