Maybe We Should Spend Less on Arresting Drunk Drivers and More on Getting Them Home Safe


We should be doing a better job of tracking the impact ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft are having on drunk driving rates in North Dakota.

We have spent literally decades making various changes and reforms to our traffic laws in an attempt to curve the very real problem with driving under the influence. We’ve done everything from lowering the limit for the amount of booze you can have in your bloodstream and legally drive to upping the severity of the punishments associated with drunk driving.

We have treated drunk driving like a nail, with law enforcement as the hammer, and it hasn’t produced results any of us are very happy with.

There are signs, though, that something outside of law enforcement is having a significant impact on drunk driving rates.

According to their most recent crime report, drunk driving arrests in Bismarck are down. Way down. Like 35 percent lower than the previous year. And while I agree that arrests aren’t the best metric for this issue – I complain about it all the timethe decline is still encouraging

This from the Bismarck Tribune:

Bismarck Police Department’s 2018 crime and traffic report showed a drop in drunken driving arrests, a statistic Chief Dave Draovitch is pleased to see.

That category fell by more than 35%, going from 590 in 2017 to 380 in 2018. Draovitch said he had several people read the report before its release and that statistic drew many comments.

What caused the drop? Bismarck Police Chief Dave Draovitch is, very cautiously, suggesting at least some of the credit may be due to the ride hailing services:

“They’re out and about and they see a lot more cars sitting in parking lots the next morning,” Draovitch said. He said he didn’t have proof, but that might mean people are more often using ride services to get home.

“If that’s the case, man that is great, that’s exactly what we want,” he said.

He’s right. Though some law enforcement emphasize arrest quotas to their officers, the goal of DUI policy is not arrests. The goal of DUI policy is to keep drunks off the road. Someone getting a safe ride home is the best possible outcome. Not only are they not putting anyone in danger, but they’re also not putting any burdens on the criminal justice system.

Bismarck isn’t alone in seeing a decline in DUI arrests some are attributing to the ride hailing services. Last year Grand Forks was seeing a similar trend, as have other communities.

The problem is, we don’t really know what the impact of these services are on drunk driving arrests. We’re just sort of guessing at it, because a decline in drunk driving arrests resulting from better access to safe rides home makes so much sense.

We should make ourselves more certain, because this could be an important data point for policymakers going forward.

What if we could take some of the tax dollars we’re currently spending on a law enforcement response to drunk driving and commit those instead helping facilitate safe rides home? Especially for those communities in our state not large enough to attract the interest of the private sector companies?

Again, the goal is not arrests. The goal is drunks off the road. If we can achieve that goal, and lighten the load on law enforcement and the court system, doesn’t that seem like a win?