Driving Under the Influence and The Holidays in Massachusetts
‘Tis the season to eat, drink and be merry. Whether it’s sipping on eggnog at your company holiday party or toasting on New Year’s Eve with champagne, alcohol is a universal part of many holiday traditions.
But while drinking during the holidays can bring excitement and joy, it can easily transform into a nightmare if one chooses to then get behind the wheel.
Nearly 90 million Americans take road trips during Christmas and New Year’s, and according to data from AAA, one in eight licensed drivers who consume alcohol say they’ve driven when they thought they were close to or over the 0.08 BAC limit in the past year.
Additionally, highway safety data shows that the number of arrests for drunk driving and the number of alcohol-related accidents skyrockets between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. During that time period last year, there were 945 drunk driving deaths in America, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Even though, DUI fatalities have been cut in half since 1980 according to data from the NHTSA, drunk driving incidents are still a very real danger. Arrest figures from the FBI 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).
How Does Massachusetts Compare?
Massachusetts has the fifth lowest rate of arrests for driving under the influence in America, according to data from Project Know. Compared to the national average over 37 DUI arrests per 10,000 drivers, in Massachusetts the number is just under 17.
Boston specifically is a bit different. Boston’s metro area is the 10th largest in the nation and houses a population close to 646,000. But in 2013, it only made 257 DUI arrests.
When compared to other similarly sized, major metropolitan cities, the number of arrests in Boston looks even lower. For example, when compared Washington, D.C. – a city similar in walkable nature and size – Boston had over six times less DUI arrests. In Denver, which has a slightly lower population, there were more than 3,000 arrests last year. Similarly Charlotte, North Carolina, there were nearly 1,600 arrests.
According to Former Boston Police Lieutenant, Thomas Nolan, in a report by the Boston Globe, these numbers are so low because policing drunk driving incidents has never been a top priority for local law enforcement and instead is viewed as a “distraction from more important responsibilities.” This is due to a variety of factors, such as funding cuts and reduced manpower, which leaves Boston police officers to focus on other issues.
Consequences of a DUI
In Massachusetts, a first DUI offense carries penalties ranging from a yearlong license suspension and possible jail time to a $5,000 fine and mandatory alcohol education classes.
Penalties are more stringent for all subsequent offenses, ranging from a license suspension of up to eight years and fines upward of $15,000. Additionally, if your DUI leads to another person’s death, you could also potentially face criminal charges.
If you’re lawfully arrested by an officer who has probable cause to believe you’ve been driving while intoxicated, there’s also an implied consent law that mandates you must take a blood, breath or urine test. If you refuse, your license will be immediately suspended for a minimum of 180 days. A three-year suspension is enforced upon those who are under 21, those who have had a prior DWI conviction, or those with a second offense.
The Rise of Designated Drivers
A recent study conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Nationwide Insurance found that 75 percent of people said they have been a designated driver in the past year, showing significant growth from 1989 when only 35 percent reported being a designated driver.
Furthermore, nearly a quarter of respondents associated the term designated driver with ridesharing and over 30 percent of those surveyed under age 30 reported using a rideshare service – such as Lyft or Uber – to get home after drinking.
The popularity of app-based car services has increased in the past few years, enabling individuals who’ve had a few drinks to easily summon a car and pay for it all on their smartphone. This eliminates the complications that may ensue after a night out – getting behind the wheel drunk, not having enough cash to pay for a taxi, or wandering into the streets to hail a cab.
The survey also found that over 71 percent of people had used a designated driver in the past 12 months, an increase from 63 back in 2013.
What You Can Do
In an effort to celebrate New Year’s Eve responsibly and curb alcohol-related incidents, we have partnered with Lyft and are offering a limited amount of $15 free Lyft credits for those who participate in our Sober Ride Home Program. All you have to do is fill out the pledge via our web site starting on December 30th and you will receive an email with the credit. This offer is limited to one per person and is valid only in the Boston area.
This New Year’s Eve and moving forward, we encourage all Bostonians to practice safe and responsible driving, so take the pledge and stand against drunk driving today.