SUNDAY EDITION | DUI arrests cut in half since ride-sharing began in Louisville

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the last four years, impaired driving arrests by Louisville Metro Police have dropped in half, a remarkable plunge that some law enforcement and legal experts attribute to the emergence of ride-sharing services and a change in habits from younger generations.

Louisville Metro Police made nearly 2,700 DUI arrests in 2013, the last full year before Uber and Lyft began operating here. But those citations began to fall the next year and have been below 1,400 each of the last two years, LMPD data shows.

“It’s been a rather precipitous decline in the last four years,” said Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, adding that the number of DUI arrests is the lowest he can remember in his career as both a judge and prosecutor.  “The fact is that since ride-sharing has been around, it corresponds to a decrease.”

While there is a consensus that ride-sharing has played some role in the DUI decline, there is a nationwide debate about the exactly how much credit to give to the new services.

Local defense attorney Ron Aslam, who has specialized in handling DUI cases for years, said a combination of factors have created the drop. He said officers have told him the addition of body cameras in 2016 has prompted officers to make fewer self-initiated stops for fear of increased scrutiny by supervisors and citizens.

“Certain officers have told me they feel like the administration doesn’t necessarily have their backs,” Aslam said, adding that he has had a handful of DUI cases dismissed this year because of mistakes police made that were caught on body cam, including not telling the driver they have the right to an independent blood test.

“That used to be the word of the officer versus the defendant,” Aslam said. “Now you can watch the video and show the officer not offering the driver that right.”

And given the rise in opioid abuse, Aslam said it would seem more people would be driving under the influence now.

“Frankly, the arrests ought to be going up,” he said, noting that police may have shifted resources away from traffic patrol to deal with the increase in violence and opioid abuse in recent years.

In fact, data from Kentucky State Police shows that while alcohol-related crashes are declining in Louisville in recent years, there have been more involving drugs. Over a five-year period from 2013 to 2017, for instance, crashes connected to drugs climbed by 36 percent.

O’Connell also mentioned the shifting of police resources as a possible reason for the decline in DUI arrests.

But LMPD Lt. Micah Scheu, head of the department’s traffic unit, said his unit has not suffered a loss in staffing.

“We haven’t seen that shift of officers,” he said. “We didn’t lose any resources for any kind of reorganization.”

And he said body cams actually make DUI cases easier to prove, showing jurors a driver’s slurred speech or failed sobriety tests rather than relying on the officer’s testimony.

Scheu simply believes there are fewer people driving drunk and a new generation has grown up with a safe ride a few phone clicks away.

“It’s very easy for a person to get a ride, a lot easier than it was years ago before those apps were available,” he said, saying officers notice the ride-sharing services filing into bar parking lots at the end of the night.

The number of DUI stats in most other Kentucky counties has stayed roughly the same, though there is a slight drop statewide. The number of DUI cases dropped from 27,495 in 2014 to 24,223 last year.

Jeffersontown police had more than 100 DUI arrests five years ago compared with 86 last year.

In Nashville, the number of DUI arrest has fallen from about 3,200 in 2013 to less than 2,200 last year.

DUI arrests are also down in Seattle, Denver, Chicago and Philadelphia, among many other cities.

There have been several studies done on the relationship between ride-sharing and DUI arrests, with differing results, often depending upon the city.

There is some belief that drunk people may not be rational enough to decide to order an Uber or Lyft and instead believe that it is too costly compared to the relatively low possibility of being pulled over.

In 2015 Mothers against Drunk Driving and Uber found that drunk-driving crashes for people under age 30 decreased by 6.5 percent in markets where ride-sharing was launched, according to a recent Miami Herald article.

A study released last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology found different results in the four cities studied. 

In Portland, for example, the study found ride-sharing led to a 60 percent decrease in alcohol-involved crashes. But in Reno, Nevada, there was no difference.

“It differs from place to place,” said Christopher Morrison, a lead researcher on the study.

Uber responded by pointing to surveys that show at least 80 percent of its riders have said the service helped them avoid drinking and driving and that peak usage time coincides with when people are bar-hopping.

Grace Dumesnil, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Louisville, said the ride-sharing services are popular with her and her friends and that it makes sense there would be fewer people driving drunk now.

“The idea of getting a taxi to me is kind of foreign,” she said. “For Uber or Lyft, I just have to go to the app on my phone.”

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Digital Reporter

Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason can be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.