“Why would someone drive drunk again and again?” It defies some people’s logic, but repeat DUI offenders are common enough in Canada. The provinces offer them fines, imprisonment, treatment, and counseling – all of which garner some success – but still a certain percentage of offenders get back behind the wheel. Why do they take this obvious risk?
The answer might be that they don’t see it drunk driving as risky. A recent study by a McGill University professor of psychiatry examined men from Québec with a history of more than one conviction for speeding or drunk driving.
In the study, published as “Personality, Executive Control, and Neurobiological Characteristics Associated with Different Forms of Risky Driving,” the risky drivers were extensively profiled in various ways. Their degree of inhibition, impulsivity, risk-taking, response to stress, and other traits were measured to answer the question: is there a particular kind of person who tends to speed, drink and drive, or do both?
The answer is yes. When profiled, the three groups had distinct personality profiles:
- Speeders were less inhibited, poor decision makers, and they could be described as sensation-seekers.
- Drunk drivers also showed disinhibition and tended to misuse alcohol in general. However, it’s interesting that of all the groups profiled, they had the lowest level of risk taking when sober.
- Those who did both showed more substance misuse, and in addition to sensation seeking, they tended to be more antisocial.
According to the authors, more research and confirmation is needed in order to apply these findings to the problem of preventing risky driving. Nevertheless, there are ideas here which point the ways to better treatment. The key is treating different personality types differently. Not all risky drivers do what they do for the same reason, or to get the same reward, so they won’t all respond to the same measures.
In general, those who drive drunk need to separate the act of drinking from driving. Perhaps treatment could help offenders better recall the negative consequences of DWI behavior. Those who crave speed thrills might be able to find their stimulation in other, safer environments. Those who do both, and who tend to care less about other people, might need to focus on their own personal motivations, and also employ contingency management, a form of behavior therapy developed for substance abuse.
It will be a while before these specialized measures are tested and the results known. Until then, we have to use the tools at hand to prevent drunk driving. One of the most powerful is ignition interlocks – car breathalyzer devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Interlock devices might not distinguish between personality types, but they do stop a driver from getting behind the wheel while impaired. To those of us who fear being on the road with risk-takers, that’s a pretty powerful solution.