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DUI Arrests Are Down, But Will It Last?

Photo by Greg Rosenke

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that people live for more than a year now. People all over the United States (and all over the world) have begun working from home more consistently, reducing their socializing, and even limiting their trips to the grocery store and other basic errands. Accordingly, people have been driving less.

For industries like travel, oil, and auto sales, this isn’t the best news. But there are some massive benefits to seeing reduced rates of road travel. For starters, the fatality rate plummets; every year, around 1.35 million people are killed in motor vehicle accidents around the world. With people driving a fraction of the time they did before, the number of deaths proportionally decreases. Additionally, we’re seeing much less motor vehicle-originated pollution.

Interestingly, we’re also seeing lower rates of DUI convictions. Driving under the influence is a crime no matter where you live, and the penalties can be harsh – for good reason. Driving intoxicated drastically increases your rate of being involved in an accident, and if you’re convicted, you’ll have to pay a hefty fine – not to mention face possible jail time, a suspended license, and other penalties.

The question is, will the decreased rates of DUI arrests continue once the COVID-19 pandemic is over? Or will DUI rates return to normal once society begins to function as it did before the pandemic?

Permanent Changes

Let’s take a look at some of the permanent changes that could arise from the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping DUI rates low for the foreseeable future:

  • Working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic practically forced businesses to find a way to continue working from home. Entire workforces were sent home for months in companies that would previously never consider a remote operation. When rates of productivity remained consistent, or actually improved, CEOs were taken aback. Now, we’re seeing a trend of company owners pledging that working from home will be a permanent fixture in their organization. If fewer people are driving to and from work on a daily basis, they’ll have fewer opportunities to take advantage of happy hour – and fewer chances to drive while intoxicated.
  • New forms of entertainment. People have also been forced to discover new ways to entertain themselves during this pandemic. Previously, millions of people went to bars whenever they were bored, drinking and talking to strangers to get a fix of socialization. These days, more people are talking to their friends over Zoom, playing games together, and taking advantage of subscription streaming services. If people get used to these new forms of entertainment, the bar scene may no longer be as appealing, resulting in fewer drunk drivers on the road.
  • Reliance on technology. The pandemic has also introduced us to forms of technology we might never have otherwise considered. Millions of people are now relying on apps to order groceries, get takeout, and notably – get from one place to the other. Due to this increased awareness and reliance, people may be more likely to take advantage of ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber when they’re too drunk to drive home on their own.

The Counterargument 

Of course, there’s also the possibility that DUI rates could return to normal – or even increase once lockdowns no longer affect our daily life.

For example:

  • Joblessness, isolation, and coping. Not all businesses got the chance to transition to working from home. The economic impact of COVID-19 is still unfolding, and the unemployment rate remains relatively high. With people making less money, feeling less fulfilled, and generally feeling more isolated due to the effects of the pandemic, we may actually see a spike in people drinking – and caring less about the consequences of their actions – when the pandemic is over.
  • Pent-up energy and partying. Many people have gone without significantly socializing for more than a year. When finally given the go-ahead to return to daily life, they may be eager to “live it up” and party as much as possible. Increased drinking, increased socialization, and increased driving could lead to more DUIs.
  • Lower perception of risk. There’s also a chance that people could develop a lower perception of risk that pushes them to engage in riskier behaviors. For example, if people see fewer cars on the road, they may believe they have a lower risk of getting involved in an accident, and they may be more willing to drive home after having “just a few” drinks.

It’s hard to say whether DUI rates will remain low when the worst of the pandemic has passed. Some factors could influence people to drive less and spend less time drinking in public. Others could actually push the DUI rate higher as we return to normalcy. In any case, do your best to drive safely when venturing out on the road.

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