Women make up a bigger share of arrests for driving under the influence than they did decades ago, but little attention has been paid to how to halt or handle the trend, according to a report released Thursday.
Federal statistics showed that women constituted nearly a quarter of DUI arrests across the United States in recent years. In 1980, the number was just 9.3%, but the percentage has risen almost every year for three decades, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Yet most research on drunk driving focuses on men. To better understand the problem, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, a nonprofit based in Canada, interviewed scores of women who had been arrested for drunk driving.
The Canadian group found some common threads among the female offenders: Almost all said they faced a stressful event such as a breakup or death in the family before their arrest. More than three-quarters said they used at least one prescription medication for anxiety, depression and other disorders. And more than half were single, separated or divorced.
The report also found that the women fit into three categories: young women who drink to “fit in” at house parties or bars; recently married women who drink to cope with loneliness after their children are born; and divorced older women or empty-nesters who begin to drink later in life.
The reasons for the change are unclear. Washington State University associate professor Jennifer Schwartz told the Chicago Tribune that women are drinking about as much as in the past but are driving more. Women might also be more likely to be arrested since many states stiffened the legal definition of intoxication.
“They may be getting caught more often now for behavior they’ve always had,” Schwartz told the Tribune.
The report recommended more guidance and assistance for female drunk drivers to help them handle issues that spurred their actions, better assessments when women are first arrested to help get them the right treatment, and other changes.