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Nobody disputes that driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. In fact, it's one of the most deadly crimes. You won't get any serious arguments from anybody that people should be allowed to drive while impaired. Nobody would dispute that you are far more likely to die at the hands of a DUI driver than at the hands of a serial killer or by gang violence.

The dispute is not about the problem of impaired driving, but rather about what to do about it. Every year, many states increase the jail time, fines and other penalties for DUI offenders. There is little evidence that increased punishment deters impaired driving. In fact, there's no conclusive evidence that suggests that the average would-be drunk driver even considers the penalties before turning on the ignition and hitting the road.

Most state lawmakers increase the penalties because it is politically popular to do so, and it’s the only thing they can think of doing. In most states, the average DUI convict spends no more than a day or two in jail for a first offense, and no longer than a year for a third offense. After that, the states have a tremendous range.

It seems for most offenders, a first, second or third DUI arrest is the wake-up call they need, and very few people get caught more than three times in their lifetime. In states such as Washington that have systems that treat and educate for alcohol and drug issues, there is a ray of hope that recidivism may be reduced. In states such as Arizona, where the focus is on punishment rather than treatment, DWI convictions often do little for a would-be repeat offender than take them off the road temprarily while they are incarcerated.

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