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Does DUI Law Unfairly Discriminate against Women?

There is a common misperception among many that driving under the influence and driving under the influence (DUI) arrests are skewed toward men. This myth is perpetuated by the stereotype of men visiting the bar after work to blow off steam or watch a game.

In 2009, CNN reported that women arrested for DUI increased by nearly 30 percent, according to a study that examined a ten-year period ending in 2007. The trend is in the direction of this disparity growing wider. Recent data reported in FBI crime statistics reveals that, as of 2010, DUI arrests of females have increased by 36 percent from 2001-2012, while DUI arrests of men declined by almost 11 percent during the same period.

Societal changes offered to explain the apparent gender shift of DUI arrests

Numerous theories attempt to explain the higher percentage of women arrested for drunk driving in recent years. Many experts suggest that sociological factors account for the disparity because more women now bear the same work stress and financial pressure to provide for their family as men. Further, some theorize that the trend of women working outside the home has not corresponded with men assuming comparable responsibilities in the home. More accepting attitudes toward women drinking and socializing in bars might also have contributed to this shift.

Physiological differences that may result in false BAC results for women

While the stress associated with juggling family and work responsibilities may provide some insight into the high number of women arrested for DUI, the law may actually be biased against women. There are a number of issues related to the way the human body metabolizes alcohol that may explain why women are more likely to face criminal charges for DUI. These factors include:

  • Percentage of body fat: On average, women have a higher percentage of fatty tissue as opposed to lean muscle tissue. Because women have more fatty tissue, their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can rise more quickly than men.
  • Hormone levels: Women have lower levels of the ADH hormone that contributes to the body’s absorption of alcohol. Because of this difference, it takes women longer to metabolize alcohol.
  • Water content: The bodies of men have higher water content so that alcohol is more diluted in a man’s body than a woman’s body.
  • Temperature/hormone fluctuations: The assumptions built into the programming of breath testing devices are impacted significantly by fluctuations in body temperature. Because women experience significantly more fluctuations in body temperature, particularly during the pre-menstrual cycle, elevated temperatures in women can lead to falsely elevated BAC results.

The fundamental point is that breath test machines are not calibrated to a specific individual but use calculations based on broad generalizations. The assumptions upon which breath test devices rely use a typical male’s body temperature, body fat or muscle composition, water content, lung capacity and other factors that can lead to artificially high BAC results when applied to women. If you have been arrested for DUI, your breath test results may be impacted by gender-related issues. For assistance, contact our DUI defense law firm.

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