Public Intoxication: Shaming Drunk Drivers

February 19th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Is public humiliation a responsible way to deter drunk driving?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

If you want to send a message, the old saying goes, use Western Union.

In Arizona, authorities who want to send a message to drunk drivers are using public humiliation, by posting the drivers’ photos on a website and on huge highway billboards with this scarlet letter taunt: Drive Drunk…See Your Mug Shot Here.

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is the driving force behind the shaming project. Its sobering website, includes the names, mug shots, and blood alcohol levels of offenders, as well as stories about the victims they killed or harmed.

Does the tactic hold drunk drivers responsible for their actions, or hold them up to public ridicule?

"There are potential offenders who can be deterred by simple embarrassment or shaming," Thomas told the Arizona Republic newspaper. Tackling drunk driving, he said, requires “new and effective ways.”

There’s no argument that drunk driving should not be tolerated. An average of 11 people die each week in Arizona in alcohol-related traffic accidents.

But critics question the practice of shaming people who have been punished by the judicial system. A spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) praised the website for giving voice to victims, but objected to the aspect of public ridicule, saying “M.A.D.D. would not want to be involved in calling out offenders. We are interested in research and science-based activities proven to stop drunk driving.”

Tell us what you think—will public shaming teach other drivers to be more responsible? Should authorities attempt to shame thieves, drug dealers, crooked politicians and others into law-abiding, responsible citizens as well?