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J Health Econ. 2004 Jan;23(1):61-83.

How do Zero Tolerance Drunk Driving Laws work?

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The University of Michigan School of Public Health, 109 Observatory, SPH-II, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2029, USA.


This paper provides the first comprehensive analysis of the effects of "Zero Tolerance" (ZT) Drunk Driving Laws--which set very low legal blood alcohol limits for individuals under age 21--on self-reported alcohol use and drunk driving using data from the 1984 to 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). I estimate two-way fixed effects models of alcohol-related behaviors of 18-20-year-olds that can condition on unobserved differences across states that may be correlated with determinants of drinking and drunk driving, and I use 22-24-year-olds as a control group. Results indicate that the laws reduced heavy episodic drinking (five or more drinks at one sitting) among underage males by 13%. This result is supported by models that use variation in treatment intensity induced by differences in body weight. I find mixed evidence of ZT effects for females, and no robust effects on drinking participation or drunk driving for either sex.

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