The majority of drunk driving arrests involve males, but the number of females arrested for DWI has dramatically increased in the last three decades. In the 1980s nine percent of those arrested for DWI were women. Today, they account for nearly one-quarter of those arrested (186,459 females in 2011). Interestingly, the increase in female DWI arrests has not yet led to an increase in female-involved impaired driving crashes and deaths. The Century Council has partnered with the Traffic Injury Research Foundation and the American Probation and Parole Association to better understand the female DUI offender problem and identify evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism in this increasing DUI population.
The increase in female DUI arrests has flown largely under the radar. Research on the issue is outdated and all too often criminal sanctions, supervision strategies and treatment approaches are not gender specific and fail to take into account the unique needs of the female population. Three new projects provide valuable guidance for traffic safety and criminal justice practitioners.
State of Knowledge: Female Drunk Drivers
The purpose of this research was to provide a current state of knowledge about drunk driving among female drivers. The objectives of the research were to describe the magnitude of the female drunk driver problem, the characteristics of these offenders, the current involvement of female drivers testing positive for alcohol in fatal crashes, and effective strategies that are available and being applied to manage this segment of the drunk driving population.
What we have learned is more females are entering the criminal justice system as a result of the increase in DWI arrests. Self-reported drunk driving and alcohol crash data involving females has been stable for many years with only incremental changes. While female and male drunk drivers share some similar characteristics, they are different on some key attributes especially with regard to dependence, co-occurring substance use, and mental health disorders.
To learn more about female drunk driving offenders, their characteristics and involvement in fatal crashes, and how these offenders are managed in the criminal justice system in terms of sanctions and treatment, please view the executive summary and final report.
Female Drunk Drivers: A Qualitative Study
The number of women who admit to drunk driving remains relatively unchanged since the 1980s and the number of arrests for driving while intoxicated (DWI) has increased almost 30% since the late 1990s, coupled with the outdated data and important gaps in knowledge identified in the 2011 State of Knowledge: Female Drunk Drivers report it was clear there was a real need for additional research to assess the magnitude of the problem.
This hidden, but increasing problem of female drunk drivers is why The Century Council partnered again with TIRF to develop an up to date profile of these offenders. The purpose of this hypothesis-generating research study was to create a foundation that could inform the development of much needed research initiatives, prevention efforts, and effective interventions tailored to female drunk drivers, explore the life histories of such offenders, examine their experiences in the criminal justice and treatment systems, and explore the experiences of criminal justice and treatment professionals who supervise this specific population.
What we have learned is that while men do the majority of impaired driving, drunk driving arrests among females of all ages continue to increase with many of these DWI offenders having blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels equal to, or higher than men. From this in-depth look at female drunk driving offenders we now know women drink and drive for many different reasons, many women struggle with alcohol abuse and dependence, impaired driving arrests – many within a few blocks of their residence and sometimes with their children – are often precipitated by a major life stressor.
A multi-faceted research design utilizing case studies conducted at four distinct sites, included focus groups with first and repeat DWI offenders, a survey of female drunk drivers in California, and key informant interviews with criminal justice and treatment professionals. The research confirmed there are important differences between female drunk drivers and their male counterparts and thus the data generated were used to identify lessons learned and to formulate recommendations to improve the supervision and delivery of services to female offenders.
The research highlights:
Profile: Female drunk driving offenders are often older at arrest, are more likely to be single, separated or divorced, have more education, and are often the primary caregivers of children. Mental health issues and prescription drug use is typically more pronounced, and histories of abuse, trauma, and health problems are common. As such the research has shown that many female offenders need affordable treatment and health services, flexible hours for appointments, alternative transportations to sessions, and on-site childcare.
Criminal Justice and Treatment Systems: Important gaps in the existing criminal justice and treatment systems can make it more challenging for female drunk drivers to successfully complete their sentence and comply with the conditions imposed upon them. Treatment programs need to provide comprehensive support for contributing factors such as domestic violence, mental health, and trauma, as well as women-only groups that provide a safe place to discuss the experiences that contributed to their substance use.
To learn more about the characteristics and the intervention and service needs of female drunk drivers, and the importance of focusing efforts to better understand this problem and to develop effective strategies to address the needs of this specialized population please view the complete final report.
Working with Female DWI/DUI Justice-Involved Individuals: A Supervision Guide
This resource was developed to achieve more successful outcomes for female DWI offenders. The guide delivers adjudication and supervision guidance for practitioners. It underscores the importance of female-responsive approaches and specialized tools and resources for this population. Key features of the resource include evidence-based practices that take a holistic approach to female case management and supervision planning. Important considerations such as specific treatment needs and issues that impact daily life (housing, transportation, financial resources and child care) are highlighted along with guidance for case/supervision plan development.