My criminal law professor, Loftus Becker (no kidding; from Harvard, naturally) used to preach what he called the “hot stove principle” of criminal justice: make it swift and certain and, like someone who places his hand on a hot stove, the miscreant is unlikely to do it again. Lesser punishment, but quickly applied. Vancouver’s law on drinking and driving seems to demonstrate his point. Drunk driving deaths are down 55% since its enactment.
In 2010, the Provincial Government not only stiffened penalties against driving at.08, but more importantly, it targeted drivers who fall below that level — to .05 — drivers who are not legally drunk. The rationale? Even a few drinks – as few as two for a woman, and three for a man — can impair your driving ability
The big change was that if you were now caught driving with a .05 blood alcohol level, the police were authorized – on the spot — to fine you, suspend your drivers license, and immediately impound your car for at least three days. They’d get you out of the vehicle, and a tow truck would haul it away.
In late 2010, police began enforcing the new laws, and police impound lots across British Columbia began filling up. The changes sparked an uproar. Civil libertarians argued it gave the police too much power – and restaurant owners like Mark Roberts said the new laws damaged the economy… he says his business dropped between 10 and 20 percent.
That sounds bad, but it works, and unlike, say, wearing seat belts, which affects no one but the driver, there’s no God-given right to endanger other people by driving around stoned. The article quotes a Canadian criminologist who explains why this law is working.
TIM STOCKWELL: These laws epitomize a perfect deterrence theory in action. And it is very important to understand that you don’t need draconian, severe penalties. They have to be severe enough. It’s more important that they are certain, and that they are swift. So on the spot, losing your car for three days, a week, that’s severe enough.
Apparently it is. Loftus would be pleased.