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Heavy Alcohol Use and Crime: Evidence from Underage Drunk-Driving Laws

By Christopher Carpenter

Abstract

This paper provides new evidence on the causal effect of alcohol use and crime. I use variation induced by the adoption of strict zero-tolerance (ZT) drunk-driving laws, which significantly reduced binge drinking by males aged 18–20 years but did not affect slightly older males aged 22–24 years. I use age-specific arrest data for police agencies in metropolitan statistical areas to estimate the effect of ZT laws on crime, controlling for both year and police agency fixed effects. I find that ZT laws significantly increased the fraction of adult male arrests for driving under the influence attributable to 18–20-year-olds and decreased the fraction of nuisance and property crime arrests attributable to 18–20-year-olds, with no effects on violent crime. These results are validated by important null findings: ZT laws did not affect arrests in any crime category for males aged 22–24 years. These results suggest that heavy alcohol use causes the commission of property and nuisance crimes.

DOI identifier: 10.1086/519809
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