(SACRAMENTO)

Racial bias may play a role in driving under the influence (DUI) convictions of Latino and Hispanic men in California, according to a new study from the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program.

The researchers examined DUI convictions and alcohol-related crash data from a sample of 72,368 California men aged 21 to 49. The data suggest Latino and Hispanic men are up to 66% more likely to be convicted of DUI than white men, even when they drive while impaired by alcohol at similar rates.

The findings were published in Criminology and Public Policy.

“The data provide evidence of racial bias in DUI convictions, and a DUI conviction can have far-reaching and lasting implications on multiple aspects of life,” said Rose Kagawa. Kagawa is the lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UC Davis. “But there are also public safety implications if white men are being prosecuted far less often than the rate at which they drive while impaired by alcohol.”

The study population was made up of men in California who purchased a handgun in 2001. The goal was to estimate the extent to which racial or ethnic subgroups of the population are over- or underrepresented among those with DUI convictions, relative to how often they drove while impaired by alcohol.

Rose Kagawa
A critical next step is to identify where and how racial bias enters the system and ultimately, to identify effective and equitable solutionsRose Kagawa

The researchers identified misdemeanor and felony convictions for DUI from January 1, 2001, through December 31, 2016. They then compared rates of those DUI convictions to two measures: the rate of alcohol-involved crashes and the proportion of self-reported alcohol-impaired driving.

They found that the ratio of DUI convictions compared to alcohol-impaired driving was 1.66 times higher for Latino/Hispanic men compared to white men. The data did not show significant differences for Blacks/African Americans, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders or Native Americans/Alaska Natives. Kagawa noted that the findings might reflect the limited numbers in the male population they studied, which was 68.7% percent white, 15.6% Latino/Hispanic, 9.1% Asian American/Pacific Islander and 5.0% Black/African American.

“We cannot determine from this study whether disparities in DUI convictions arise from individual biases — for example, in officer’s decisions to stop, test, or arrest drivers for driving under the influence — or from more systemic and structural factors regarding police deployment and DUI checkpoint locations,” said Hannah Laqueur, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and senior author on the study.

“Documenting the existence of racial bias in the criminal justice system is just the first step,” said Kagawa. “We are not the first to do this, but we are using data that allow for a high level of confidence in the study. A critical next step is to identify where and how racial bias enters the system and ultimately, to identify effective and equitable solutions.”

The study suggests reducing individual and structural biases, or the potential to act on bias, could lead to more equitable DUI conviction rates. One example cited by the researchers is to provide prescriptive guidance to officers on when to stop a driver. Another is using local DUI crash rates to determine sobriety checkpoint and saturation patrol locations. These are sometimes disproportionately located in majority Black/African American and Latino/Hispanic areas relative to majority white areas.

Additional authors on the study include Christopher D. McCort, Julia Schleimer, Veronica A. Pear, Shani A.L. Buggs, and Garen J. Wintemute from the Violence Prevention Research Program and Amanda Charbonneau from Behavioral and Policy Sciences, RAND Corporation.

Additional DUI Research from the VPRP