Over the last three decades, more women have been arrested for drinking and driving than ever before. In fact, between 1998 and 2007, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) rose almost 30%. The statistics are giving pause to researchers everywhere as they scramble to figure out why this is happening as well as how to stop it.
At the recent annual conference of the Transportation Research Board, educators and advocates gathered to discuss the trend. A main objective of all research on women and DUI is attempting to gather information on what is causing more women to drink and drive. The research is still in its early stages, but explanations are forthcoming. For example, researchers note that binge drinking has increased among women over the years as more women lose their aversion to risk-taking behaviors. Since there are currently two million more women drivers than men and more women are binge drinking, it follows that more women are driving drunk these days.
Some researchers and experts claim that the connection between women and DUI is the same for men and DUI: lack of executive control. Executive control relates to how we make our plans and choices in life and for some people, this area is lacking. When people are experiencing trouble with executive control, they tend to behave more impulsively, have poor memory, and have trouble learning from the past. In this way, researchers are saying that more women may be arrested for DUI simply because of cognitive development.
However, there are also social factors at play. More and more, women are being targeted by alcohol advertising. Women also receive the same social messaging that drives men to drink. Alcohol is reputed to help reduce stress, lessen anxiety, and make it easier to socialize with others. Our culture teaches that being drunk is fun and this message is not gender specific. Research shared at the conference indicates that more women are using alcohol as a way of dealing with a lack of steady employment, new parenthood, relationship woes, and a variety of life challenges and stressors.
Overall, more men are driving drunk than women and more men are getting arrested for DUI. However, the numbers for women and DUI are steadily climbing and academics and advocates alike are searching for the reasons. Everyone knows about the dangers of drinking and driving, but there are reasons people do it, anyway. Hopefully, research on why women drive drunk will continue and lay a foundation for a shift in how we think about drinking, in general, and not only when driving is involved.