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Improving Road Safety

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We’re researching the most effective ways to make our country’s roads safer by helping to prevent impaired driving.

James Fell, Principal Research Scientist
Economics, Justice, & Society

When news outlets reported in 2016 that driving under the influence (DUI) arrests in Miami-Dade County, Florida, had significantly decreased over the previous seven years, state officials were curious. The decline was much greater than in the rest of Florida and the rest of the United States over the same period. Were there really fewer impaired drivers on the roads? Was there something to be learned from Miami-Dade’s DUI prevention, enforcement, and prosecution of offenders?

The Miami Foundation and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office asked NORC to investigate the reason for the decline. Our researchers analyzed existing DUI and crash data; conducted a telephone survey of respondents’ knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes regarding impaired driving; conducted roadside surveys on weekend nights in the county; led focus groups of Miami police and prosecutors; and reviewed the country’s best DUI prevention and enforcement strategies.

We found that the decline in Miami-Dade County’s DUI arrests was not due to a corresponding decline in impaired driving, but rather to a less aggressive approach by law enforcement. We turned our focus to policy recommendations, some of which the County State Attorney is now implementing. These included encouraging county police chiefs to inspire traffic enforcement officers to be proactive in identifying and making impaired driving stops. We also recommended that county police agencies join forces to conduct more sobriety checkpoints, as they are safer for both police and drivers and generally deter impaired driving.

We recommended a dedicated interagency DUI task force of five to seven officers within the county.

In a nationally representative traffic safety survey sponsored by the Road to Zero Coalition, we examined public opinion of a variety of effective but underused safety strategies, including sobriety checkpoints, speeding and red light cameras, drug-impaired driving tests, seatbelt usage, highway engineering, and ridesharing. After respondents listened to research findings on each strategy, a majority said they supported almost all of them, even the seldom-used sobriety checkpoints.