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The Effects of Increasing Penalties in Drunk Driving Laws: Evidence from Chile

Abstract: This paper analyzes Chile’s drunk driving laws and their effects on car crashes, injuries, and deaths. There were two policy changes. While the 2012 law increased license suspension penalties and decreased the legal blood alcohol limits for drivers, the 2014 law only increased sanctions, including at least one year of actual imprisonment for drunk driving implicated in car crashes with severe injury or death. We use a rich data set of countrywide administrative records that permit us to identify direct measures of alcohol-related accidents, including fatalities and injuries. We also have access to blood alcohol tests to assess whether the laws affected drivers’ alcohol consumption. Using count data models and a rich set of covariates, including police stops and gasoline sales, we find a short-run decrease in accidents and injuries for the 2012 law and a sustained decline in these outcomes for the 2014 law. Neither intervention has an effect on deaths. There is a marginal decline in alcohol consumption after the enactment of both legal changes. However, while the 2012 law only affects male drivers, the 2014 law affects both males and females. No reductions in alcohol intake are found for heavy drinkers.

Keywords: drunk driving law, increasing penalties, car accidents, injuries and deaths