Declining DUI arrests: What’s the cause?

Looking back over the past eight years or so, something very interesting has been happening to the arrest rate statistics for people driving under the influence.

DUI arrests have been dropping – pretty steadily and inexorably.

The trend started in 2011, in which year an 8% decline in DUI arrests was experienced over the prior year. In 2012 the decline was 4.1% … in 2013, it was another 7.2%.

And arrest rates didn’t plateau after that, either. DUI arrests have continued to decline — even as police departments have continued to put plenty of cops on the beat for such purposes.

One of the most dramatic examples of the continued decline is in Miami-Dade County — the highest population county in the entire Southeastern U.S.  The Miami-Dade police force made DUI arrests in 2017 that were 65% fewer than four years earlier.

Look around the country and you’ll see similar trends in places as diverse as San Antonio, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Portland, OR and Orange County, CA.

There are common thread, in what’s being seen across the nation:

  • DUI arrest levels are down in major metro areas — but not necessarily in exurban or rural areas.
  • DUI arrest levels have declined the nearly all of the metro areas where ride-sharing services are prominent.

This last point a significant factor to consider:  The increasing popularity of ride sharing services has coincided with the drop in DUI arrests.

A 2017 University of Pennsylvania analysis found that in places where ride-hailing services were readily available, in most cases DUI arrests had declined upwards of 50% or more compared to just a few years earlier.

Ride-hailing services are particularly popular with younger adults, who like the smartphone apps that make them pretty effortless to use.  They’re also popular with people who are looking for more affordable ways to get about town compared to what highly regulated taxi services choose to charge.

Plus, the “cool” factor of ride-sharing leaves old-fashioned taxi services pretty much in the dust.

The few exceptions of locations where DUI arrest declines haven’t been so pronounced are in places like Las Vegas and Reno, NV – tourist destinations that draw out-of-towners who frequently take public transportation, hail taxis, or simply walk rather than rent vehicles to get around town.

With the positive consequences of fewer DUI arrests – which also correlate to reductions in vehicular homicides and lower medical care costs due to fewer people injured in traffic accidents, as well as reductions in the cost of prosecuting and incarcerating the perpetrators – one might think that other urban areas would take notice and become more receptive to ride-sharing services than they have been up to now.

But where taxi services are well-entrenched and “wired” into the political fabric – a situation often encountered in older urban centers like Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Baltimore — the ancillary benefits of ride-sharing services don’t appear to hold much sway with city councils or city regulators – at least not yet.

One might suppose that overstretched urban police departments would welcome having to spend less time patrolling the streets for DUI drivers.  And if that benefits police departments … well, the police also represents a politically important constituency, too.

It seems that some fresh thinking may be in order.

Uber über alles? Ride-hailing services are coming on stronger than ever.

Business travelers have spoken with their wallets.

Uber logoIt looks as if a major milestone has been reached in the battle between “old world taxis” and “new world Uber.” An expense report study covering the second quarter of 2015 is showing that Uber and other ride-hailing services have overtaken the use of taxis – at least when it comes to business travelers.

The quarterly report was released by Certify, an expense management system provider. It reveals that Uber accounted for ~55% of ground transportation receipts, whereas taxi services accounted for only ~43% of receipts.

That’s a big jump from previous quarters; taxi services long dominated, staying well above 50% as recently as the first quarter of this year.

And this report isn’t based on some small data set, either. Certify’s stats are derived from millions of trip receipts submitted by its North American client base – nearly 30 million receipts over the course of a single year.

Clearly, Uber and other services that connect travelers through smartphone apps have succeeded beyond many people’s expectations.

But not everyone is pleased – beginning with taxicab services and their political allies.  Understandably, they’re frightened by the prospects of seeing the most fundamental tenets of their “business protection plan” melt away before their very eyes.

Depending on how people come down on the issue, opinions can be particularly passionate. Consider these responses prompted by a recent AP article on the topic published by ABC News:

Pro-Taxi Reader: Uber is breaking laws and evading taxes and municipal dues on a mass scale. How do you “adapt” to that? How to adapt to this unfairness and criminality? I personally suggest stop paying taxes, or start a strike like they did in Paris. It seems that in [the] U.S., Uber’s lobbyists and endless BS-PR campaigns control the country.

Pro-Uber Reader: Is it really “fair” for a city to charge one million dollars to have a taxi license (New York City)? Most of the taxi BS is from mafia-run business[es] who have fought for the last 70 years to keep competition out.

Another Pro-Uber Reader: The current system of licensing taxis should be reconsidered.  This system smacks of monopolies, with barriers to entry that are impossible.  There is no free market when you can’t get a license to operate.

Certain national politicians are even getting into the game, finding fodder for campaign rhetoric aimed at constituents who are frightened by the implications of the new work paradigm.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech by Hillary Clinton:

“Many Americans are making extra money renting out a small room, designing websites, selling products they design themselves at home, or even driving their own car. … This on-demand, or so-called ‘gig economy,’ is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation. But it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”

These are good points to raise, and it’s certainly fine to weigh the pros and cons of the so-called “new economy.”

At the same time, it’s pretty ironic to see how people supporting a candidate who questions ride-hailing services are so “onboard” with Uber – at least in practice if not in their rhetoric.

To illustrate, take a look at these Federal Election Commission filings from the Ready PAC (the pro-Clinton SuperPAC formerly known as Ready for Hillary PAC) here and here and here.  There’s a “whole lotta Uber” going on!

Getting back to the real world of business travel, in nearly every city, Uber is offering better pricing than taxi services – at least when it comes to services like UberX which typically involve transport in smaller cars like a Honda Civic or Toyota Camry.

SUVs and limo cars are pricier, of course, and may not represent a major cost improvement. And Uber’s prices charged also rise during periods of “surge” usage.

taxi cabBut considering the comparative cost as well as the quality of service, in some markets Uber beats out taxis by a city mile.

How else to explain results in the most recent quarter where ~60% of rides in Dallas expensed through Certify were for Uber vehicles rather than taxis. In San Francisco, Uber’s share was even higher:  nearly 80%.

No wonder taxi services are running off to local elected officials, boards and commissioners to try to shore up their faltering business model.

It’s worth noting that some employers harbor reservations about ride-hailing services — particularly concerns about lack of regulation, safety and liability. But even in non-regulated locations, protections exist. Uber as well as Lyft, another industry participant, provide driver insurance during paid rides, and they require drivers to carry their own personal auto insurance as well.

It would be interesting to hear the views of people who have used Uber or other ride-hailing services. Do you see them as the wave of the future? Or are there drawbacks? Please share your experiences and observations with other readers here.