Early Numbers: No Uber, Lyft Impact on DWI Arrests

Erie County Sheriff's Arrests Up July Fourth Weekend

Dave Debo
July 06, 2017 - 6:13 am

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(WBEN) During the region's first weekend with ridesharing, DWI arrests in Erie County rose slightly, but county officials say that doesn't necessarily debunk the argument that Uber and Lyft can help reduce drunk driving.

"The numbers would suggest something a little different than what you might have expected," said Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard . 

Early numbers on the first holiday weekend that Erie County had ridesharing showed 9 arrests over the 4 day weekend.  In 2016, that number was 6 arrests over three days, Howard said. 

"The four-day weekend may have been more encouragement to do even more drinking," Howard said, not ready to concede that the sample is large enough to represent a significant blip. "To suggest it's more is I think rather insignificant, that it turned out to be only a quarter more for each day. We are only talking the Erie County Sheriff's Office, so maybe we need a bigger study group and maybe we will get that," Howard said

Across the county, other departments had a total of six DWI checkpoints, according to County Executive Mark Poloncarz.  He too says the early Sheriff's Dept. snapshot is not significant and therefore he is asking the county stop DWI program to generate numbers from a larger sample in the coming weeks.

The two ride-hailing apps had been limited to picking up passengers the New York City until lawmakers voted this year to permit the expansion.  In the run up to ridesharing being approved, several politicians and law enforcement officials argued that it could help cut down on DWI by offering options to people who would otherwise drive drunk.

"Being able to get a lift with the ease of using your phone is not only convenient, but vital in lowering the number of drunken driving crashes" said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn, at the end of last month, echoing similar pleas from  Howard and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

Bar owners and craft breweries rallied with politicians and police to put forth the argument.  Then county clerk and now State Senator Chris Jacobs was one of the first to put forth the case, and the State Police Chiefs Association also weighed in.  

"Upstate New York accounts for 51% of the all licensed drivers in New York State, yet accounts for 65% of all Driving While Intoxicated/Driving While Ability Impaired arrests, and 59% of all fatal/personal injury crashes," wrote  Cheektowaga Police Chief David Zack,  in a letter sent to Governor Cuomo in December, in his role as President of the State Police Chiefs Association.

"... New York City has more options for public  transportation such as subways, busses and taxicabs than Upstate areas. New York City has another major advantage: apps like Uber and Lyft that provide safe rides at the push of a button," Zack wrote. 

Acadamic studies suggest that there could be an Uber/Lyft effect but are not unanimous.

  • A Temple University study released in 2015 found that drunken driving deaths decreased by an average of 3.6% to 5.6% in California cities following the introduction of ridesharing services in 2009.  READ IT HERE
  • A Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles study released last year found alcohol-related driving deaths dropped 22% in 2015 following the presence of ridesharing. 
  • Oxford University  looked at data from several cities that deployed Uber from  2005 through 2014 and found quote"  no association with the number of subsequent traffic fatalities  READ IT HERE
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