New York City’s DWI Rate Drops Through the Floor. What’s the Reason?

new-york-city-dwi-rate-dropsWe love to wrangle about a 5 percent change in our pet project’s key indicators. Depending on one’s viewpoint, it’s a major change, or an insignificant variation.

But a 40 percent drop in the DWI rate?

New York City is on track for just such a drop, says the New York Post.  The stats for the first three quarters of the year are out, and they show some 3,370 drivers convicted of drinking-related offenses.

Last year’s total was 8100, so unless something very weird happens, this will be an incredibly sober year for New York’s streets.

What drove this incredible 40 percent downturn in DWI rate? The Post, citing unnamed experts, proposes rideshare services like Lyft and Uber as a crucial element. The services are very popular in the city, which also has a legion of taxis and excellent public transport to get people home after a night of drinking.

But availability of options is one part of the answer – the choice to do the right thing is another. Influencing that choice are New York’s DWI laws, which have been strict for a long time and which are getting stricter. There is a minimum fine of $500 ($1000 if one’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .18 or higher). First offenses can garner a jail sentence of up to a year, and a license suspension of 6 months. New York even has laws to deal with people who are impaired but technical under the limit (a BAC of .05 to .07). They will receive a 90-day suspension. Multiple offenses and aggravating factors (such as collisions or resisting arrest) increase those penalties.

New York also has a ignition interlock program. Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, are required for many offenses. The devices prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Another part of the answer to why this is happening is simply that New Yorkers are not dumb. They have been bombarded with messages about drunk driving for years, and those messages have sunk in. It helps that a wealth of alternatives to drunk driving are available once one decides to make the choice.

Of course, New York has an advantage that few American cities have – a compressed population served by excellent transport. What works here will not work so well in South Dakota. Nevertheless, we seem to be putting together a list of the elements of a good anti-drunk driving program: good education, strong laws, good policing, and ample alternatives to driving.

New York led the way with the Reuben sandwich, hip-hop, and Seinfeld. Maybe they can show the rest of the country how to approach drunk driving as well.