Drunk driving is a major problem in the United States, causing almost a third of all auto-related fatalities and costing around $60 billion per year in economic losses. Around 1.4 million drunk driving arrests are made every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Now, WalletHub has ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia on their efforts to crack down on drunk driving.
Arizona was found to be the strictest state when it came to both criminal penalties and prevention efforts for drunk drivers, followed by Alaska, Connecticut, West Virginia and Kansas.
South Dakota came 51st, with Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, North Dakota and Maryland being nearly as lenient.
WalletHub used a points system for ranking the states, assigning more points for stricter policies in 15 categories such as minimum jail sentences, minimum fines, felony charges, penalties for exceptionally high blood alcohol concentration, mandated ignition interlock device installation, and insurance increases. These added up to a potential 55 points.
Points were awarded based on policies only, not outcomes or drunk driving statistics.
Arizona earned 43.75 points, making it far and away the strictest state; Alaska, the runner-up, earned 33.75 points. South Dakota earned only 7.25 points.
Leniency, or Progressive Treatment?
Officials in South Dakota, however, have responded to the study saying it wrongly equates more progressive policies with leniency.
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that the state has been very successful with alternative programs that try to keep people both sober and out of jail.
He further explained that the state has tried to place more emphasis on actually addressing the root cause of drunk driving and changing that behavior, citing the 24/7 sobriety program and SCRAM transdermal alcohol monitoring bracelets as examples.
“Multiple offense DWI [drivers guilty of driving while intoxicated] may end up in prison, but there are a significant number of programs in place to reduce the chances of the person reoffending as opposed to throwing them in jail and throwing away the keys,” he said.