Drinking and Driving: Detecting the "Dark Figure" of Compliance

Document Type



Behavioral and Organizational Sciences (CGU)

Publication Date



Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Substance Abuse and Addiction


The “dark figure” of undetected alcohol-impaired driving in the United States is acknowledged to be very high. However, this “dark figure” may lead to premature pessimism about the prospects for deterrence unless there is a countervailing estimate of “the other dark figure”—the rate of compliance with the drinking-driving laws under conditions of negligible arrest risk. This was a feasibility study in the use of survey data (N = 1,401) to identify patterns of compliance on the last drinking occasion as a function of social roles as drivers and passengers. A small but statistically significant proportion of U.S. drivers took these steps to reduce alcohol-impaired driving: reduction of drinking before driving, allocation of the driving role to low volume drinkers, and relinquishment of the driving role to an alternate driver after heavy drinking. There was no evidence for the selective use of public transportation as a means for diverting heavy drinkers from alcohol-impaired driving.

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© 1986 Elsevier Ltd.