Is A Court-Ordered Lyft App a Proper OVI Punishment?

Lyft app as OVI punishmentPunishments for drunk driving are rarely creative. Fines are inescapable. Jail time is a distinct possibility, especially for repeat offenders. Ignition interlocks, devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, are mandatory for all drunk driving offenses in 30 states now. Add community service, and that’s about it.

A judge in Ohio has been creative, though: Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti has been ordering OVI offenders to install a ride-hailing app such as Uber or Lyft.

This is not the first outburst of creativity Judge Cicconetti has shown. According to news reports, he has previously ordered drunk drivers to view the bodies of crash victims in the city morgue.

The question one must ask is, will it work? The premise of the order is that the reason the defendant drive drunk is that he or she did not think of calling up for a ride. That might have been the case, but it’s probably a more complex decision that led to the OVI.

What Makes People Drink and Drive?

The decision to drink and drive is one that’s been studied a lot. A 1995 NHTSA report lists these forces as active upon drunk drivers:

  • Social influences: this can be the pressure to get on the road, or to get home, after a night of drinking. People felt they were expected to drive home despite their inability to control their vehicles. Some didn’t want to break up a group and spoil the party by denying friends a ride home.
  • Personal influences: People like to drink, plain and simple. And they don’t always know their limit, or at what point they’re unable to drive. Even if they know the latter objectively, alcohol loosens their inhibitions and makes them forget it.

There are other factors too, and the authors of the study recommend that friends and alcohol providers take a prominent role in preventing people from driving while impaired. They also recommend better planning and more alternatives to OVI – which would, of course, include Lyft and Uber.

A study published in Injury Prevention gives these factors leading to drunk driving:

  • Driving alone
  • Drinking at bars
  • No advanced planning

Once again, a ride-hailing app looks like a good antidote to these forces. However, the app only works if one uses it. Perhaps the press given to Judge Cicconetti’s unusual punishment will help keep the rideshare alternative top-of-mind with people who are out drinking in Ohio. But a sure bet would be to beef up the state’s ignition interlock laws, which are proven to reduce OVI recidivism.  Compliance-based removal, by which an offender cannot remove the device until he or she has passed several months with no failed tests, is an excellent way to ensure that a driver has figured out how to drive responsibly.  Good judgement sometimes needs to be learned the hard way, and unfortunately, there’s no app for that.