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Arrests Across America (DUI)


The Current Drug Landscape

In the next two minutes, there will be a drunk driving injury somewhere in the United States. In the next 60 minutes, there will be a DUI death. These are averages based on the 10,322 deaths and 290,000 injuries caused by drunk driving in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).1 MADD also reports that, while DUI fatalities have been cut in half since 1980, drunk driving incidents are still staggeringly frequent. On average, 300,000 of those incidents occur each day; however, only about 4,000 of the people involved in those incidents are arrested.

The most up-to-date arrest figures were released by the FBI on November 10th, and they show that in 2013 there were 1.16 million DUI arrests. The only crime categories that accounted for more arrests were drug violations (1.5 million) and larceny-theft (1.23 million).2

In this issue of Arrests Across America, we will map and analyze the latest DUI arrests at the state-level using the FBI numbers just mentioned, then at the city-level using data from seven open data portals.

The map and table above show the number of DUI arrests in each state per 10,000 drivers in 2013, using the FBI’s newly released figures. The majority of states with the highest numbers seem to be in the West, with North Dakota sitting in first place with 87.3 per 10,000 drivers. North Dakota’s reputation for having a DUI problem has been noted before by other studies: In April 2014,—using data from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration—reported that North Dakota had more drunk driving deaths than any other state in 2012 (10.3 per 100,000 people). In comparison, South Dakota, which ranks second in our list, had almost half that number, at 5.3.3 Interestingly, Alabama also had 5.3 DUI deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, but ranks last in our table for DUI arrests in 2013.

Colorado, in third place on our list, has two ways of defining DUI offenses. If an offender has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of between 0.05% and 0.08%, their offense is classified as a DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired). If their BAC is over 0.08%, it’s called a DUI (Driving Under the Influence). Cognitive ability begins to become impaired by alcohol at 0.02%. Impairment sharply increases up to and beyond 0.08% and becomes extremely high beyond 0.15%.4 It’s estimated that if all drivers had BACs under 0.08%, there would be at least 7,000 fewer deaths from DUI accidents each year.5

Now, let’s zoom in on some of the states by mapping and analyzing recent DUI arrests from seven of their major cities.

Jump to a city

Portland, OR

Every year, Allstate Insurance compiles a Best Drivers Report, which ranks the 200 largest U.S. cities on their relative driving safety according to insurance claims filed within their borders. This year, Portland placed 177th out of 2006. Focusing more specifically on DUI incidents, Portland—with 1,777 DUIs in 2013—had a DUI arrest rate of 29.1 per 10,000 residents. This is higher than Oregon’s 19 DUI arrests per 10,000 drivers (a slightly different measure, but driver totals and resident totals are very similar). And both Portland and Oregon’s DUI rates are lower than the national average of 37.4. The map below shows the locations of 3,335 DUI arrests in Portland between January 2012 and December 2013.

It’s to be expected that most DUI arrests in Portland (and any city) will occur on the biggest and most traffic-heavy roadways. Another consideration when interpreting the map above, and those that follow, is where law enforcement chooses to police the roads for DUI suspects. Despite sobriety checkpoints being ruled unconstitutional in Portland by the Oregon Supreme Court in 1987,7 it stands to reason that certain areas will be policed more heavily than others, and therefore that they will see more DUIs (and other traffic-related offenses).

There is also the question of where people procure the alcohol to raise their blood alcohol content above the crucial 0.08% threshold. In Portland’s case, this question has definite answers: The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) collects information on the establishments DUI suspects say they visited before they were arrested. Between December 2009 and July 2013, two main Portland bars appeared in the data. They were the Dirty Bar and Grill at 35 NW 3rd Ave (with an average of 13.5 incidents per year), and CC Slaughters at 219 NW Davis (12 incidents between July 2012 and July 2013).8,9

The OLCC data also reveals that 57% of fatal crashes in the region had alcohol and/or drugs cited as their biggest contributing factor.

If we cluster together Portland’s DUIs, we can get a clearer idea of which areas of the city see the most drunk driving arrests.

About one-third of the total DUI arrests are clustered around the Downtown Portland area, with other major hotspots stretching east in a 3-mile-wide band across the city. To know precisely where most DUI arrests take place in Portland, we need to rank arrest locations at the level of streets and roadways.

The location with the most DUI arrests is Interstate 5, which stands to reason: The I-5 is a major roadway that passes through Portland, Salem, Eugene, and Medford. Many I-5 DUI accidents have made the news in recent years, but the most bizarre has to be the 14-year-old girl who was charged in 2012 with possession of a controlled substance, driving without a license, and driving under the influence, after she crashed a minivan on Interstate 5 at 3:30 in the morning. The driver and two passengers were injured, but nobody was killed.10

Many people have been killed in recent years through DUI incidents in Portland, though. Last year, Mayor Charlie Hales—who saw 11 DUI fatalities in his first 2.5 months on the job—expressed his dismay by saying: “Every person who dies in a crash represents a family and community tragedy.”11

Let’s move on to a city that has a lot more inhabitants, drivers, and DUIs than Portland.

Chicago, IL

Illinois has a relatively low rate of DUI arrests compared to other states: 3.8 per 10,000 drivers in 2013. This puts it at 48th place in the nation, with only Delaware and Alabama below it (3.4 and 0.5 respectively). However, Chicago’s DUI arrest rate is higher, at 10.31 per 10,000 residents. This is presumably due to the city’s significant volume of traffic.

The maps below show the exact locations of 5,000 Chicago DUIs, as well as how they clustered across the city.

Once again, major DUI hotspots can be seen around the most populated parts of the city. But how closely do drunk driving locations correlate with the busiest areas? We can examine this question by comparing a heat map of DUI locations with a heat map of traffic volume. If more DUIs happen on the roads with more traffic, then the two maps should look very similar.

The traffic volume map is based on data from 2006 (figures are collected about every 10 years). We can see that DUI hotspots in Chicago don’t map exactly onto the more traffic-heavy parts of the city, although there are definitely more DUIs in the north than the south. There are, of course, more people living in the north, too. In fact, since 1980, the north side and Downtown Chicago have become significantly more densely populated, while the south side’s population has dwindled.12

Even with the heat maps above, it’s difficult to determine exactly where most DUI arrests in Chicago have taken place. Let’s rank them at the street-level like we did with Portland.

63rd Street is Chicago’s longest east to west street, stretching 11 miles. More DUI arrests were made on 63rd Street between March 2012 and May 2013 than any other single location in the city. It also happens to be the only street home to two Chicago Police Department buildings: one for the 8th District and the other for the 7th.13 Perhaps this makes noticing and arresting drunk drivers easier.

There have been a few notable cases in Chicago of repeat DUI offenders, some with significant and saddening consequences. In 1999, Walter Depner killed four members of a family while driving drunk on Illinois Highway 120. After serving 12 years in prison for the crime, he was again arrested for driving under the influence. This time the year was 2013, but the location was the same: Illinois Highway 120. Nobody was injured, but Depner was still sentenced to six years for the second offense.14 He is by no means the only person to be arrested for drunk driving on more than one occasion. The average DUI offender has driven drunk about 80 times before his or her first arrest and, according to the National Department of Transportation, nearly one-third of DUI arrests involve repeat drunk drivers,15 despite sentences increasing in severity for each new offense. Revoking driver licenses doesn’t appear to be much of a deterrent to drunk drivers either: 50-75% drive without them.16

Our next city is about 1,000 miles away from Chicago, not just in distance, but also in how its DUI arrests look.

Boston, MA

If you’re familiar with Boston’s geography, then the locations of the above DUI arrests may not surprise you very much. What might give you pause, however, is the total number of arrests for the time period covered: There aren’t very many. In fact, Boston’s open data portal shows only 257 DUI arrests made in 2013. 2012 saw a similar number, at 254 (down one-third since 2009). So far this year (Jan 1st 2014 – Nov 17th 2014), there have been 227 DUI arrests.

One explanation for the small number of arrests, proffered by Boston Police and reported by the Boston Globe in April 2013,17 is that Boston is a walkable city with lots of public transportation. However, Washington, DC—a city that is similarly populated and walkable—had 1,663 DUI arrests in 2012: a lot more than Boston. Another reason might be that many DUI arrests in Boston are handled by Massachusetts State Police, whose records don’t make it into Boston’s open data program. Whatever the case, many activists and media outlets have reflected on the fact that Boston appears to be lagging behind other cities when it comes to tackling DUI incidents. Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police lieutenant, was quoted in the aforementioned Boston Globe article as saying the following about drunk driving in Boston and the police’s attitude towards it: “It never has been a priority…That’s been a firmly ingrained part of the culture. It’s not even on their radar.”

Let’s see in more detail where Boston’s few DUI arrests took place.

Blue Hill Avenue was Boston’s number one location for DUI arrests between September 2011 and October 2014. DUIs aren’t the only crime endemic to the area, though. The Phoenix newspaper, in a 2010 article titled “The New Combat Zone?”, said this about Blue Hill Avenue and Mattapan, the area it resides in:

Perhaps the main takeaway about the area from the above quote, apart from its high level of crime, is its heavy volume of traffic, which surely carries with it many of the city’s drunk drivers.

Denver, our next city, has an almost identical population to Boston, but a notable difference on the law books: Marijuana is legal. Let’s see if that fact is reflected in its DUI arrests.

Denver, CO

Colorado ranked third highest for DUI arrests in 2013 (63 per 10,000 drivers), behind North Dakota (87.3) and South Dakota (63.1). Denver’s DUI arrest rate for the same year at first glance appears much lower, at 11.3, but other studies—which have included DUI arrests made by Colorado State Patrol—have put the number significantly higher. A report by the Denver Office of Drug Strategy released in April 2014 noted that Denver’s DUI arrest rate in 2008 was 77.9 per 10,000 residents, but by 2012 had dropped to 49.3.19

The same report also pointed out that 54.8% of fatal crashes in Denver in 2012 had alcohol as their main contributing factor, which was a higher proportion than was seen in Colorado as a whole.

Stapleton had the most DUI arrests of any Denver neighborhood between January 2012 and October 2014, followed by Five Points and Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill is near Broadway, Downing Street, Colfax Avenue, and Seventh Avenue, which all feature large amounts of traffic.20 It is also Denver’s most densely populated neighborhood, which goes some way to explaining why it ranked so highly for DUI arrests.21

Unfortunately, Denver’s open data doesn’t distinguish between alcohol DUIs and drug DUIs, but there have been reports that Denver’s police force is still much more focused on drunk drivers than stoned ones. Denver Westword reported in May 2013 that a single checkpoint in Larimor County made 22 DUI arrests and only one was a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs charge. All others were for drunk driving.22 More recently, CBS Denver looked into drug DUIs in Colorado by contacting 12 law enforcement agencies. Seven said they did not maintain a record of marijuana DUIs, but one of the five that did provide numbers was Denver, which reported it had made about one arrest per week in the six-month period since marijuana was legalized in the state.23

Marijuana is still illegal in our next city, but DUI checkpoints aren’t.

Kansas City, MO

Missouri had a DUI arrest rate of 49.1 per 10,000 drivers in 2013. In contrast, Kansas City had 21.4 DUI arrests per 10,000 residents, based on the available DUI numbers from its 2013 open data. However, similar to Denver, Kansas City’s actual DUI arrest rate is likely to be higher than 21.4 because many arrests are made not by the city’s police (who provide the data through the open portal) but state police (whose data isn’t readily available). Nevertheless, we can use the data we do have to see DUI hotspots in Kansas City neighborhoods.

North Town Fork Creek has seen more DUI arrests so far this year than any other single Kansas City neighborhood, followed by Columbus Park and Roanoke.

Kansas City’s open data also details a few demographic facts about persons arrested for DUIs. 64.4% of DUI arrestees in 2013 (whose races were noted in the database) were white, and 34.8% were black. In 2010, 59.2% of Kansas City residents were white and 29.9% were black—so DUI arrests are fairly in line with what you would expect as far as race of offenders is concerned.

73% of DUIs in Kansas City in 2013 were committed by men. This is a lower percentage than the national average as publicized by the Center for Disease Control in 2010, which reported that 81% of drunk driving episodes involved male offenders.24 The average age of a DUI arrestee in Kansas City in 2013 was 31 for men and 30 for women.

The National Highway Safety Administration reports that in 2011, drivers aged 21-24 accounted for the highest proportion of drunk driving episodes (32%), followed by 25-34 year olds (30%)25, which is the bracket into which the average Kansas City DUI arrestee would fall.

Our second-to-last city belongs to Washington state, which had a DUI arrest rate per 10,000 drivers that was higher in 2013 than Missouri’s (49.8 versus 41.1). Let’s see what DUI arrests looked liked over the last couple of years in its largest city: Seattle.

Seattle, WA

Seattle had 2,861 DUI incidents in 2013, which puts its DUI arrest rate at 43.8 per 10,000 residents—slightly lower than Washington’s 2013 rate of 49.8.

There were more DUIs in Seattle in 2013 than in 2012 or 2011 and, so far this year (up to November 16th), there have been 2,588, which should put the end-of-year total at about the same level as 2013’s.

The Seattle Police Department divides the city into five main geographic areas, which are further segmented into 17 sectors. Each sector (shown on the map above) comprises three police beats (not shown). The North precinct has had the most DUI arrests since January 2013—in particular, the John sector. John contains Fremont, which is among the top 10 most densely populated neighborhoods in Seattle,26 as well as Highway 99, which passes through the sector North-to-South sectors.

Washington is also a state that does not allow sobriety checkpoints, despite having some of the strictest anti-DUI measures in the country in other regards. For instance, in 2004, Washington made ignition interlocks (breath-testing devices that don’t allow cars to start unless the driver is sober) obligatory for all DUI offenders.27

Let’s now move down the West Coast to our next and final city.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco appears to have a very low DUI arrest rate. With only 429 DUI arrests reported in San Francisco’s open data for 2013, the DUI arrest rate for the city was 5.1 per 10,000 residents. In stark contrast, California’s average DUI arrest rate in 2013 was 58.1—10 times higher. That seems an extremely wide gap, but the California Office of Traffic Safety reports that San Francisco had a similar number of DUI arrests in 2012 (507),28 which would suggest that the above rate is correct.

San Francisco is one of the few cities with data that distinguish between alcohol DUIs and drug DUIs. In 2009, 92% were alcohol-related and 8% involved drugs. In 2010 and 2011, drug DUIs represented 6.2% and 6.8% of all DUI arrests, then they increased in 2012 to 11.5%. Last year, in 2013, they dramatically rose to 19.3%—almost one in five.

The NHTSA reported in 2012 that fatal crashes caused by drunk driving were 4.5 times higher at night than during the day, and 31% of fatal crashes caused by drunk drivers happened on weekends, compared to 15% during the week.29 San Francisco’s DUI arrests, if not its DUI fatalities, echo these trends, with noticeable peaks at 2am and on Saturdays and Sundays.

San Francisco police divide the city into 10 districts. The Mission district has seen the most alcohol DUIs since 2009. Interestingly, Tenderloin has had the fewest alcohol DUI arrests, but the second most drug DUI arrests, which is probably due to the area’s reputation for being an open drug market. called Tenderloin “San Francisco’s worst neighborhood” after documenting its drug activities through a ride-along with the city’s police earlier this year. Overall, though, and compared to many other cities, San Francisco appears to have a very low incidence of drunk driving (or drunk driving arrests).

It’s hoped that drunk driving will continue to decline nationwide, in part thanks to the campaigning efforts of groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but also because of new technologies. For instance, ignition interlocks—used by 22 states as of 2013—have been shown to reduce rearrest rates by 67%. There’s also new evidence that tentatively suggests ridesharing services like Uber could help to reduce the temptation to drink and drive30 and, as a result, lower the number of injuries and deaths on America’s roads.


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