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Can ridesharing apps help prevent drunk driving?

Studies show mixed results, DUII arrests on rise in Central Oregon

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Millennials hailing a cab. JK—millennials don't use app-less technology. - UBER.COM
  • Uber.com
  • Millennials hailing a cab. JK—millennials don't use app-less technology.

It's been just over eight months since Uber arrived in Bend, and nearly seven months since Lyft followed suit. While Central Oregon may be relatively late to the ridesharing party, the San Francisco startups didn't waste any time after a change in taxi ordinances in Bend and Redmond in early 2017 allowed them to operate. On their websites, both Uber and Lyft claim that ridesharing services, only a few app taps away, help combat drunk driving. According to a 2017 report published by Lyft, 88 percent of riders say they avoid driving under the influence because of Lyft, and 53 percent use Lyft to transport friends or family who have been drinking.

The question is: have ridesharing apps helped curb drunk driving in Central Oregon?

In honor of the transportation issue, we set out to find out.

Mixed Results

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found no association between Uber deploying in cities and the number of traffic fatalities due to drunk driving or weekend and holiday traffic. One potential reason, according to the study, may be that Uber drivers make up such a small percentage of drivers—a mere 450,000 compared to the 210 million licensed drivers in the United States, and the 4.2 million people thought to be driving under the influence in a given month.

While Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants is can be costly and leave offenders with a mar on their record, the odds heavily favor those who choose to drink and drive. According to the study, 1.1 million DUI arrests were made in 2014, compared to roughly 121 million incidents of drunk driving. That's less than 1 percent.

Still, a 2015 study from the City University of New York found that boroughs in New York City where Uber was introduced experienced a 25 to 35 percent decrease in alcohol-related traffic accidents, averaging about 43 fewer crashes per month after the arrival of the ridesharing service.

So, what about Central Oregon?

According to the 2015-16 Annual Oregon Uniform Crime Reports, the Bend Police Department made 382 DUII arrests in 2016, 10 more than 2015. The Deschutes County Sheriff's Department made 221 DUII arrests in 2016, 75 more arrests than the previous year. In 2016, accounting for all law enforcement agencies in Deschutes County, there were actually fewer arrests in the county overall than in the previous year—dropping 4.7 percent. The 2017 Annual Oregon Uniform Crime report has yet to be released, but third quarter reports point toward higher numbers of DUII arrests in Deschutes County in 2017.

While overall DUII arrests in Deschutes County decreased from 2015 to 2016, the DCSO, Bend PD and Redmond Police Department each saw an increase in DUII arrests.

A reported 724 DUII arrests were made in Deschutes County between Jan. 1 and Sept. 31 of 2017—4.8 percent more than the same period in 2016.

Lt. Clint Burleigh of the Bend PD said that while there are a number of factors that may have contributed to an increase in DUII arrests over the past year, the biggest factor may be that there are more officers on the streets.

"We've been dealing with a staffing crisis for the last three years, four years, shortages and whatnot. It takes a good year, year and a half to get somebody up and running in patrol," said Burleigh. "Where we're at now compared to a year ago, it's night and day."

This upward trend seems to have continued through 2017, even after the arrival of Lyft and Uber. Fourth quarter DUII arrests for 2017 by Bend PD, Redmond PD and the DCSO total 159, as reported on LexisNexis.com, between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. This makes 883 DUII arrests in the county in 2017—not including the fourth quarter numbers from Sunriver Police, Black Butte Ranch Police and the Deschutes County Oregon State Police. In 2016, those agencies combined made 154 DUII arrests. A similar number of arrests in 2017 would put the county-wide number of arrests for 2017 well over 2016's 902.

While ridesharing apps give Central Oregonians another commute option, it doesn't necessarily mean everyone will choose the safer one after drinking. Burleigh said on average a drunk driver will drive 80 times under the influence before they're arrested.

"If you have Uber and Lyft coming in and people are taking an Uber instead of driving, it is reducing the chance of that person driving intoxicated," said Burleigh. "But it doesn't mean that we don't have other people driving intoxicated and that we [won't] find them."


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