Trying Something Old: The Impact of Shame Sanctioning on Drunk Driving and Alcohol-Related Traffic Safety


  • She thanks Ryan D. King, Glenn Deane, Steven F. Messner, Joanne M. Kaufman, and Matt Vogel for their feedback on earlier versions of this work. The author also acknowledges the Ohio Departments of Public Safety, Drug and Alcohol Addiction Services, Rehabilitation and Correction, and Commerce for their assistance.


Largely absent from US criminal sentencing since the early 1800s, shame penalties have been staging a comeback. This revival has been met by a number of debates among legal scholars, one of which centers on the potential for such penalties to reduce crime. This study addresses this debate by investigating the impact of formal shaming on drunk driving and alcohol-related traffic safety in Ohio. In accordance with the Traffic Law Reform Act of 2004, judges have since been mandated to issue “restricted plates” to certain first-time and all repeat DUI offenders with limited driving privileges. Results indicate a curvilinear association between punishment levels and drunk driving. Increases in the certainty and visibility of plates are associated with decreases in suspension rates, but there is a point at which increasing the punishment level no longer retains its intended impact. In addition, levels of punishment are unrelated to alcohol-related traffic safety.