Chicago DUI Arrests Down 50%. What’s Going On Here?

chicago dui arrests down 50 percentIn charting drunk driving trends, every year matters, but decades matter more. It takes a while to spot a trend, but a lot of people think they’ve found one: Chicago DUI arrests were down about 50 percent from 2005. In that year, some 6800 people were handcuffed and brought in for drunk driving. Last year it was about 3300. These figures come from an annual survey released by the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, an Illinois organization which has been fighting drunk driving since 1982.

Nice going, Chicago. But what did you do that was so right?

A lot of factors are being given credit. One is Uber – even though that company only started in 2009 and didn’t arrive in Chicago until 2011.

More plausible are speculations that awareness of drunk driving and its prevention has been growing. Chicago police conduct roadside sobriety checkpoints, which not only catch drunk drivers, but serve as warnings to all who see them that impaired driving doesn’t pay.

Drunk driving is as socially unacceptable as it’s ever been since the invention of the automobile. Chicago seems to be doing a good job keeping the anti-drunk-driving message alive through public service campaigns.

Beyond Chicago, Illinois has made great progress in lowering its rate of traffic deaths, having kept its total below 1000 since 2009. Currently, about 32 percent of those deaths are alcohol-related.

Illinois also has a well-managed ignition interlock program which does not offer preferential treatment to any offender, regardless of location. Car breathalyzer devices are known to reduce DUI recidivism, so it is certainly possible that yesterday’s drunk drivers are sober on the road today.

Finally, it’s possible they are off the road altogether. Chicago is one expensive city in which to own a car: parking can set you back $1,000 a month. Given the city’s superb mass transport system, many Chicagoans are ditching their cars altogether and hopping on the El. That works wonders for the drunk driving situation.

Like many municipalities around the country and the world, Chicago has set a goal of zero deaths on the road. It’s an ambitious goal, but the right one. Cars and roads will get safer, and  eventually some better technological solutions to distracted driving will arrive. But reducing the toll of drunk driving deaths will remain a challenge.  Let’s hope Chicago keeps showing the country how to do it.