The facts on drunk driving are not good. In a typical year:
- Every day, 29 people in the U.S. die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Alcohol-related car accidents cost the U.S. $44 billion a year.
- One-third of fatal crashes involve a drunk driver, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals.
- Approximately 67% of U.S. men and women will be in an alcohol-related crash during their lifetimes.
- Drugs (not including alcohol) are present in drivers’ systems in 18% of fatal car accidents.
While the optimal amount of drunk driving is no drunk driving, the fact remains that COVID-19 is having some unexpected effects on these numbers. Namely, national news reports show drunk driving arrests are at their lowest in years. Let’s take a look at some of the specifics.
“Stay At Home” Orders Drive Down Drunk Driving Arrests
Just how drastically is COVID-19 affecting drunk driving numbers? To put the numbers into perspective, between 2015 and 2017, there were 377 deaths and 1,171 injuries owing to alcohol-related crashes, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT). If numbers stay consistent, Missouri is now on track to reduce those numbers by as much as 70%. At the end of March last year, Missouri police arrested 293 people for drunk driving. This year, on the same weekend, police arrested just 94 for drinking while driving.
That trend is emerging all across the country. In Nebraska, police arrested just four people for driving under the influence on St. Patrick’s Day — a 15-year low for the state. In late March in Hawaii, officers arrested just three people in a week for violating drunk or impaired driving laws.
Charleston County police detained only 13 individuals for DUI charges in March and nearby Berkeley County and Dorchester County made no arrests in March. New Mexico drunk driving arrests are down by 50%.
Of course, these dramatic drops are related to states’ “stay at home” or “safer at home” orders. “No one’s really driving much and many people are being compliant with the recommendations or orders from government officials to stay home,” attorney Tim Kulp tells Live 5 WCSC. Similarly, tourism-dense states, like Hawaii, also attribute lack of DUI arrests to fewer tourists driving on the roads.
Interestingly enough, alcohol sales are up. According to a study by Nielsen, alcohol sales spiked by 55% during the week of March 21 with no indication of slowing. In fact, distributors may see even more alcohol sales as states slowly reopen and restaurants drive revenue from takeout and delivery alcohol sales. While Americans are buying and presumably drinking more, the numbers suggest they are doing it at home.
Nationwide, officers have noticed an uptick in speeding. Drivers are likely taking more liberties on empty or near-empty roads. The stay at home orders are decreasing drivers on the road period. In addition to fewer DUI arrests and alcohol-related crashes, there are also fewer crashes overall.
Drunk Driving Litigation and Defense: What To Expect During COVID-19
What if you are among the few charged with driving drunk or driving impaired at this time?
Now more than ever, it may be wise to team up with a criminal defense attorney. While it is always beneficial to work with an experienced professional — someone who is well-versed in law — now drivers may face some of the same charges with considerable limitations and strain placed on the legal system. Right now, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and courts may be offering limited services and hours. There may be delays, changes to standard business operations, and temporary orders to cease in-person appearances and conferences.
A criminal defense attorney can ascertain that you receive the counsel, hearings, and legal measures that are your due. For the foreseeable future, a defense attorney may meet with you virtually, using videoconferencing software or conduct consultations and meetings over the phone. These temporary measures are for your safety as well as their own. You may be able to arrange an in-person meeting if it is strictly necessary. Talk to your lawyer about your needs and the best way to proceed during this time.
To make the process as straightforward as possible for their clients, many attorney’s offices are compiling resources listing what to expect when and what records and documentation the client will need. Many include hyperlinks to helpful resources and updates on states’ social distancing guidelines and recommendations and how these guidelines will affect the DOT.
Remember, a staggering 96% of personal injury lawsuits are settled before ever going to trial. It is completely possible to mitigate the legal consequences of a first offense drunk or impaired driving charge. Work closely with an attorney to make sure that you do not pay more than you need to or incur more consequences than necessary due to these uncertain times.
Also keep in mind that the opposite is true. Just like you deserve full and reliable attention to your case, officers and courts are not going easier on drivers just because the world is in the midst of a pandemic. Dutifully follow any restrictions following DUI arrests. If your license is temporarily revoked, do not drive. If you are granted a limited license under certain conditions, like installing and using an ignition interlock, do your best to abide by those conditions. Showing respect for limitations following your arrest may very well help your case.
Drunk driving is dangerous and costly. “Charges range from misdemeanors to felony offenses, and penalties for impaired driving can include driver’s license revocation, fines, and jail time,” the NHSTA writes. Do whatever you can to avoid drinking and driving, even while the nation navigates COVID-19. Plan ahead. If you plan to drink when you are not at home, always have a designated driver or use a taxi or riding sharing app, like Uber, to get home. Do not let your friends or family members drive drunk.
During the pandemic, stay safe. Stay off the roads while drunk, and know your rights if you face drunk or impaired driving charges during this difficult time.