Sunday, January 13, 2013

'Are some cities built to encourage drunk driving?' I'm talking to you, Houston

The Atlantic's Cities blog posed the question this week, "Are some cities built to encourage drunk driving?" Then Unfair Park and the TM Daily Post followed up, noting that Dallas and Houston show up as among the cities with the most fatal crashes and the largest proportion of fatal accidents involving DWI. Other Texas towns weren't far behind in that latter category: "Houston ranked second, Dallas fifth, and Austin seventh, with Fort Worth close behind at number 13 in the study recently put out by software company IDV Solutions on their UXBlog." See the full infographic ranking large US cities here.

Though it doesn't explain all the data, IMO a big factor is the availability of public transportation, as Grits has argued in the past. The Atlantic nailed it: Some cities are built to encourage drunk driving, particularly here in Texas. As Eric Nicholson wrote at the Dallas Observer's Unfair Park
This should make intuitive sense to anyone who doesn't live in Uptown, Deep Ellum or Lower Greenville and has ever gone out for a few drinks. Assuming no one volunteered to be designated driver, you're basically left with two choices: pay an ungodly amount for a cab or drive drunk and hope for the best. In places like New York, where things are denser and more accessible by foot or by public transportation, there are more viable options.
Bingo! As Nicholson pointed out, "That's not to say that people in Dallas have an excuse to drive drunk, just that the data make sense." However, Grits would add that the data show urban planning and other public policy decisions play a big role in DWI death rates that the enforcement-only crowd generally fails to acknowledge. Grits doesn't believe there are fewer drunks in New York, Washington D.C., or Philadelphia than in Dallas, Houston, or Austin; I just think those cities' governments had the foresight to give people a way to get home without climbing behind the wheel of a car.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about show some individual responsibility and control the amount of alcohol you ingest as well as the timing. If you can't go out without having to drink to the point of intoxication, then stay at home.

Anonymous said...

What happened to going out in having 2-3 drinks. That is 12oz beers, 6oz glass of wine or mixed drink with 1oz of liquor. Many of the drunks I arrest say all they have had to drink is 2-3 drinks, many times they are telling the truth. But when questioned concerning the size of the drink the real truth comes to light. The size of the drinks restaurants like Hooters, Chili's or bars sell is ridiculous. When someone drinks a margarita the size of a fish bowl or beer from a 30+oz mug. It only takes 2-3 of those before someone gets behind the wheel drunk. How about some pressure on the restaurant and bar businesses to sell a drink in a reasonable size glass. The size of these drink glasses these days could compete with a Big Gulp.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:12, that's fine to say but do you somehow imagine folks in Philadelphia, e.g., are possessed of more "individual responsibility" than Texans? I don't. I think the difference in the numbers stem from differing policy decisions by the respective cities.

8:42, you act like there was a time when what you suggest was the norm. "What happened to going out in having 2-3 drinks"? Twas never thus. DWI deaths have been declining for at least two decades. It's farcical to pretend there was some golden era of responsibility in the past - people are more responsible about DWI today than at any time since the invention of the car. My criticism is of irresponsible public policy and urban planning decisions by the government that make the problem worse here than elsewhere. Almost all discussions of DWI focus on maximizing arrests, but that's not the only way to reduce them and cities with lower DWI fatality rates tend to have more public policy tools in the toolbox.

I do agree that restaurants and bars serving massive drinks is an issue, but if they could get home via public transport it wouldn't matter as much.

One point not made, or under-emphasized, in the post: In Philadelphia, NY, Boston, etc., they don't zone residential in one part of town and bars in another. Instead, there are neighborhood bars within walking distance of most people where folks tend to do their drinking. It's unrealistic to tell people to drink at home: It's a social experience disproportionately concentrated among young people.

Carl Lobitz said...

I always wondered why MADD didn't get behind establishing walkable neighborhoods...

Anonymous said...

It would be terrific if MADD and other organizations would push to have liquor ads limited or taken off television completely. The ads look like drinking will lead to beautiful women and men having a great time. It destroys relationships and does not create them. There is a tremendous lobby
for makers of alcohol. IS MADD afraid to tackle this? I do recall there used to be tobacco ads on television - no more.

Anonymous said...

Most individuals receiving a DWI are alcoholics. Numerous small businesses are associated with a DWI. In addition to attorney's fees, there are court fees; probation fees; state fees; fees to the person servicing the interlock; huge fees to the company with the band on the leg; additional fees to 8 week courses sometimes given twice where there is a recitation of past wrongs but no individual counseling - the cost is probably $10K to $15K. Does a Jail provide rehab? Is there a law allowing Judges to order an individual to treatment instead of jail and rehab rather than referal to all the other businesses? Is the alcoholic or the public served by promoting and funding these businesses?

Anonymous said...

The reason MADD doesn't push to have liquour ads limited or removed from TV is because MADD is not against the liquor industry or responsible adult drinking. MADD's mission is to stop drunk driving, support the victims of drunk driving and prevent underage drinking. In regard to establishing "walkable neighborhoods," wouldn't it be more realistic for the city council to deal with that issue? MADD has it's hands full with the mission it already has.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

By that logic, 9:42, wouldn't it be "more realistic" for MADD to leave law enforcement to the police and stay out of public policy debates regarding criminal law?

MADD's purpose is ostensibly to promote public policies that reduce drunk driving, but typically they suggest only one way to do that: Criminal enforcement. There is, however, more than one way to skin a cat and if there are other public policies like zoning and public transportation that empirically reduce drunk driving, I fail to see why you wouldn't consider pursuing them part of the group's "mission," particularly in light of data showing cities with public transport, walkable neighborhoods, etc., have lower DWI fatality rates.

Anonymous said...

MADD's founder, Candace Lightener, disagrees with 9:42 that "MADD is not against the liquor industry or responsible adult drinking."

From this source: "Lightner has moved on from MADD, and since then has protested the shift from attacking drunk driving to attacking drinking in general. 'I worry that the movement I helped create has lost direction,' she told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1992. BAC legislation, she said, 'ignores the real core of the problem....If we really want to save lives, let's go after the most dangerous drivers on the road.' Lightner said MADD has become an organization far more 'neoprohibitionist' than she had envisioned. 'I didn't start MADD to deal with alcohol,' she said. 'I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.'"

Anonymous said...

You might want to contact MADD and ask why they don't add "establish walkable neighborhoods" to their mission statement. The toll-free number is 800-438-6233.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why MADD should be chastised for failing to take an all-encompassing approach to the problem. It seems to me that they should be free to focus on whatever particular elements of the problem that they identify as being fundamental, just like everyone else does. That doesn't prevent anyone else from focusing on other elements of the problem, such as urban planning, etc. And for those individuals who believe that there are other important elements of the problem that need to be address, what MADD does or does not due in no way prevents you personally from effectively advocating for your view in whatever manner you see fit.

Using MADD as an excuse for sitting back and doing nothing yourself is a bit wimpy in my book.

Anonymous said...

If we would take responsibility for our actions - by not driving after we've been drinking -it wouldn't matter whether there were walkable neighborhoods or public transportation, etc. We all know what happens when we ingest alcohol. We all know that driving drunk is dangerous and illegal. In Texas, if you seriously injure someone while driving drunk the prison sentence range is 2-10 years. If you kill someone the range is 2-20 years. Happily, drunk driving fatality rates are falling but that won't matter to the loved ones of the person who will be killed or maimed by a drunk driver tonight. Always make a plan to get home BEFORE you start drinking. Stop others from driving drunk.If you knew that the drunk you see getting into his or her car was going to drive away and kill someone you care about, you'd probably try to stop them. Call 911 if you can't persuade them not to drive. Here's a chilling statistic: for every drunk driving arrest, that person has driven drunk 80 times.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:25 says, "I don't know why MADD should be chastised for failing to take an all-encompassing approach to the problem."

Certainly they're free to take a myopic approach that ignores factors that result in lower DWI death rates, but doing so seems counter to their mission, unless, as their founder alleged in the quote at 9:42, they're really about prohibition and not reducing drunk driving deaths, which sometimes has seemed the case.

To be fair, in Texas MADD has modified some of its crimjust stances (e.g., on the Driver Responsibility program) in light of similar criticisms (along with data that the approach wasn't working), but it's a fair question why they would ignore factors that empirically seem to contribute to lower death rates.

3:38 writes, "If we would take responsibility for our actions - by not driving after we've been drinking -it wouldn't matter whether there were walkable neighborhoods or public transportation, etc." And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. There's no evidence people in Philadelphia or Boston are more responsible than folks in Texas cities. The differences arise from public policy and if you want reduce DWI death rates to their admirably low levels, you'll have to look beyond lock-em-up strategies.