'Zero tolerance' policy has zero effect

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Washington, Sep 17 (ANI): Amid an ongoing debate about changing the drinking age from 21 to 18 in the US, a Sam Houston State University economist has raised voice against a related law- the "zero tolerance" policy.

Darren Grant studied data from 30,000 fatalities in nighttime accidents involving drivers under 21, and concluded that zero tolerance laws have zero effect.

"Both in terms of the number of accidents and the blood alcohol of the drivers in those accidents, the research consistently showed that zero tolerance laws had no effect. Other factors matter, but not these laws," said Grant.

Zero tolerance laws became prevalent during the 1990s, when the US Congress threatened to withhold highway funding from states that didn't comply.

Grant has now said that the logic behind zero tolerance laws is suspect.

"The idea was, since drivers under 21 are not supposed to be drinking, you should be guilty of drunk driving if you are caught driving with any amount of alcohol in your system," said Grant.

"Because you must sacrifice more to comply with the law, we should expect some people will just give up trying to satisfy the law and drink more," he added.

But he found that this did not happen.

"Instead, among drivers involved in traffic accidents, there is the same fraction of heavy drinkers, the same fraction of mild drinkers, the same fraction of nondrinkers. It's just not changing," he said.

Grant also compared the blood alcohol distributions of involved drivers in the two years before zero tolerance laws were established in each state, and again in the two years after.

It was found that the two distributions were also virtually identical.

"That's a sign that this law is essentially inert; if it's affecting the amount of drinking that people do, these distributions should look different," he said.

The study has been published in the journal Economic Inquiry. (ANI)

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