Effects of Severity of Accident, History of Drunk Driving, Intent, and Remorse on Judgments of a Drunk Driver1


  • 1

    This study was conducted by the first author for a M. S. thesis in clinical psychology. The second author was thesis supervisor.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris L. Kleinke, Psychology Department, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK 99508.


A total of 160 women and 160 men read scenarios of an accident caused by a male drunk driver. The severity of the accident was either high (death) or low (monetary damage) and the driver either had or did not have a history of drunk driving. In addition, the driver expressed or denied feeling remorse and expressed or denied intent (or negligence-he admitted or denied knowing he was drunk before deciding to drive). The driver was evaluated on character traits and cause, responsibility, blame, and punishment. Participants also recommended sanctions (fine and prison sentence). Trait ratings of the driver were influenced negatively by history and positively by remorse. The driver who expressed intent was evaluated as more believable and more reckless. Participants with high belief in a just world evaluated the driver as being less responsible and believable and more of a cause of the accident. There were no differences in judgments given by men and women. Severity did not affect trait ratings, but was the only variable influencing sanctions. Although the driver's self presentation strategies were effective in moderating judgments about his character, they had no bearing on recommended sanctions.