The Investigators: Driving down DUIs

The Investigators: Driving down DUIs
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Uber is cheap, convenient and, according to authorities, the good choice if you are going to drink alcohol.

The ride sharing company has become the go-to app for people looking for a safe way home. After just several years in existence, statistics from police departments across the country show the service is helping to put the brakes on drunk driving.

The night scene has really come alive in downtown Baton Rouge. Whether it is a wedding, ladies night, or just enjoying live music with friends, the
options are endless. So are the drink specials.

Seven nights a week, Matt Randolph gets ready for a busy night on the road. He has been driving for Uber for two years.

"Saturday night, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., is generally the best time of the week," Randolph said.

Randolph circles the streets lined with popular bars. The areas include downtown, Acadian/Perkins overpass, and Tigerland. He waits for a notification on his cell phone which tells him someone near him is requesting a ride.

"Here we go. Here's someone at the corner of 301 North Blvd. I'm accepting the pickup," Randolph said.

Randolph calls his riders to confirm their location. One night, he picked up three ladies from Jolie Pearl who were headed home after dinner. The young women said they use Uber almost every time they go out.

"You have to make the decision that you are going to drive home when you are sober. Before, you would drive to the bar before you've been drinking, and now it's like you just call Uber," Lauren MacKenzie said.

"It's easier. It's quick. It's cheap. There's no reason, in my opinion, not to use it," Delaney Shehan said.

Another rider, Braden Pichon, said he uses the service for other reasons too.

"It was a Sunday, and it looked like it was going to rain. I ride a motorcycle and didn't want to ride in the rain. So I got an Uber to pick me up," Pichon said.

Louisiana Highway officials said, in recent years, they have seen a decline in deadly crashes associated with impaired driving. Major Doug Cain with Louisiana State Police said that Uber has helped.

"At one point, it was over half of our fatal crashes related to impaired driving. Now we are well below half," Cain said.

The numbers speak for themselves.

The 9News Investigators looked at the rate of DUI arrests in East Baton Rouge Parish dating back to August 2014. That is when Uber arrived in the
Capital City. According to the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, deputies arrested 238 people on DUI charges in 2014. The next year it dropped to 226, and the first half of this year just 62.

"The response in this community that we have seen from drivers and riders as well has been astounding," said Michael Black, the general manager of Uber.

Black said he has seen even greater results in cities that welcomed Uber more than five years ago.

In Memphis, Tennessee, DUI arrests have dropped even more. Since Uber pulled in to Memphis in 2012, DUI arrests have gone from just over 1,600 to 886 last year, and the city is on its way to setting a record this year with 390 arrests to date.

In Atlanta, the police department reports its DUI arrests fell from 2,243 to 1,535. That is a 32 percent drop with Uber's growth the last five years.

"I think, for us, it really starts with reliability. We have enough folks who are willing to get out in those times of very high demand," Black said.

It is one of the reasons the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who introduced the phrase "designated driver" to the country, has chosen Uber as its official designated driving app.

Colleen Sheehey-Church, the national president of MADD, said Uber is helping them get their message out a lot faster.

"Their leadership and what they do. Their mission-critical efforts really aligns with MADD. Like MADD, they are publicizing what they can do. We publicize that we want to stop drunk driving. Together we are getting the message, and it really is about educating the public," Sheehey-Church said.

Uber operates in 35 states. Church said she is in the process of talking to lawmakers in states that do not have the service to encourage them to embrace it. She said she plans to carry the data with her.

"When you hear those percentages and ask, is it a key? Yeah, it's a key. It is critical," Sheehey-Church said.

Randolph said when he took the driving job two years ago he had no idea he would be part of a bigger solution.

"I think helping cut down drinking and driving makes you feel good about it on both ends. It makes you feel good that people are willing to do that, and i am glad to be part of that," Randolph said.

Uber hopes to expand to every state in the country. The most recent to come online was Puerto Rico.

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