Explaining the drop in DUI arrests and crashes in the Chicago suburbs

The roads in the Chicago suburbs have been safer since 2007:

DUI arrest totals last year in 79 suburbs were about half what they were in 2007, despite only a small drop in police staffing. There were 6,955 arrests last year, compared to 12,166 in 2007, according to annual state-funded surveys compiled by the Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists.

Meanwhile, those same suburbs in six counties reported 1,555 crashes involving alcohol-impaired driving in 2007, according to Illinois Department of Transportation crash reports. By 2009, that number was down to 1,012 alcohol-impaired crashes, and it has hovered near that mark ever since, with 1,065 crashes in 2014, the reports show.

What is behind this?

“It’s the economy,” said Don Ramsell, a Wheaton-based attorney who specializes in drunken driving defenses. “It’s so obvious it’s ridiculous. Alcohol is a feature of people’s disposable income, and most people have a lot less of that these days…

Lake in the Hills Police Chief David Brey chalks up the decline in the number of arrests to “more and more people making a conscious effort to take a cab or have a designated driver.”…

Ramsell and AAIM Executive Director Rita Kreslin say lean budgets might have something to do with fewer DUI arrests. Both said police officers have told them they’re under less pressure to make DUI arrests because of the time and expense of following up in court.

Three different explanations: people have less money to spend on alcohol, drinkers have become smarter about using alternative transportation, and police departments may have been devoting less attention to this area. Getting this explanation right could be consequential as communities and police departments think about their budgets. In contrast, simply throwing out possible explanations (probably based on anecdotal evidence) may serve particular interests.

Still, good news overall for the safety of suburban roads. Now we can see whether the trend lasts and this might provide evidence for the explanations given above.

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