Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Public transport, less restrictive zoning would reduce DWI

There's been lots of discussion lately about DWI enforcement, with Harris County implementing a new so-called "diversion" program that really diverts more people to jail and Dallas preparing to expand its "no refusal" blood draw program full-time in September.

Maybe it's time, though, to think outside the box on DWI instead of relying solely on criminal enforcement.

My better half observed recently that in London there's not nearly so much drunk driving as here because there's good public transit and a bar within walking distance in virtually every neighborhood. Examining data from Texas vs. the UK (pdf), our police make about one DWI arrest per 244 residents annually, while in England and Wales that figure is one out of 499. They also have FAR fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths compared to Texas (1,544 vs. 550 in 2006), though we have less than half their population.

By contrast, in Texas there is little public transportation (in Austin the bus route in my neighborhood quits running at midnight, even though bars close at 2 a.m.), but providing alternative transport would do a lot more to reduce drunk driving than further ramping up penalties.

What's more, most cities zone businesses that serve alcohol to non-residential areas, but then arrest drinkers who drive to and fro. How much sense does that make? Our laws have created a situation where you basically MUST drive to drink but then are subject to punishment for it.

Backing up this notion is a recent analysis showing DWI arrests are less common in "wet" Texas counties than "dry" ones. Why? IMO it's because people don't have to drive home from another county after they want to get a drink.

To believe the statistics from MADD, cops stop only a tiny fraction of those who drive drunk. So why not pursue complementary strategies? Investing in public transit and allowing bars zoned in or near residential neighborhoods would likely do more to solve this problem than further ramping up penalties or mandatory blood draws.


Anonymous said...

Did you awaken this morning in full mooner/spoon bender mode?


Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know me, Plato, I get that way sometimes. ;)

Charlie O said...

One thing that I liked when I lived in Baltimore many years ago. Local neighborhood bars. Actually this is common in most eastern cities. A little bar in the row house on the end of the block. The owner usually lives upstairs kind of thing. Anyways, we walked to the bars all the time. Never a need to drive.

Soronel Haetir said...

My understanding is that most of London is much denser than most US cities. Especially in terms of your wet/dry border crosser it seems very unlikely that there is actually enough population to warrant such bus service.

Just like passenger rail needs density in order to be worthwhile and most of the US just doesn't have it, I have a hard time believing the same is not true of bus service. The threshold is likely lower than trains, but much of the US just isn't there.

The quick population number I got for the UK is about 60 million, or about 1/5 that of the US, but the UK has less than 1/35 the area. You will notice that the areas of the US with the requisite population density, such as the east coast, and especially the Boston-DC corridor have much more in the way of public transport than the rest of the country.

While it might be nice from a public safety standpoint I don't see it being such a valuable service as to outweigh the economic considerations.

Charlie O said...


Have you ever seen idea that you couldn't flush down the toilet with a negative response? You are such a typical close-minded conservative. No idea will work. Everything will fail. We can't possibly do something here that worked somewhere else.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Soronel, I made two suggestions. For the wet/dry corridor issue, I think they just need to vote "wet" and change zoning to allow neighborhood bars. Clearly public transport isn't the answer for rural Texas.

However in the urban centers and suburban rings, traffic is already a nightmare and public transit is needed anyway. And you'd get a lot more public safety bang for the buck IMO than from equal spending on criminal punishment and traffic enforcement. That is, if the state wants to SOLVE the problem instead of just grandstand about it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Also, Soronel, re: density, it's a chicken and egg issue. Building transit encourages greater density while building roads promotes sprawl. And once again, zoning plays a big role, too. So it was urban planning decisions by government that caused the situation you describe.

Bottom line: Government policies make the DWI problem MANY times worse than it needs to be.

Anonymous said...

People don't walk to the local grocery, the school to pick up their kids, or the dry cleaners. I'm doubtful they would walk to the local bar.

Jed said...

9:51, my kids walk to school and so did I growing up, and when I lived in Philly I walked to a neighborhood bar, just like Charlie O in Baltimore. I don't walk to the grocery store or the dry cleaners because they're too far away, but I would if they were close by.

Anonymous said...

It's called a friggin taxi or a designated driver, but that, of course would take, effort.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:11's comment provides support for my earlier point that many people would rather pass judgment than solve the problem.

Judging by the stats from England and Wales, we've got about 6 times the DWI deaths per capta they do, but our folks would rather keep the status quo than look at why we're higher and take steps to reduce DWI deaths. I'll never understand why folks would rather have someone to blame than fewer dead people.

Anonymous said...

Most folks believe the very first thing to do when a problem comes up is to assign blame.

Solving the problem is only the first priority when you are more concerned for all of society than your own position in the "pecking order". The cultural change required to convince folks that solving problems is a priority over assigning blame will take generations.

Anonymous said...

So instead of dui arrests, we'd see massive increases in the kitchen sink charge 'public intoxication' :). improper gaiting, or maybe slouchy sitting in a gov transit monopoly bus..

Anonymous said...

"Our laws have created a situation where you basically MUST drive to drink but then are subject to punishment for it."

That's b.s. You can drink and drive. You just can't drink to the point to where you become intoxicated and then drive. So going to the pub and having a couple of drinks, visiting with your friends and then and driving home should not be a problem.

The problem is that people don't give a crap about how what they do affects others. Mass transit and more bars will not change that.

maunarie said...

How about these two for outside the box:

1) A $25 tax on all cell phones sold in Texas cities with population greter than 100,000 with a waiver of this tax when the address book is delivered to the consumer with the phone number of a local taxi service pre-programmed.

2) Since DWI supposedly costs us millions and billions of dollars maybe it would be cheaper to just send a 50 gallon barrel of vodka to each residence every year. We could distribute it at the same time as the annual Yellow Pages books. This way nobody ever needs to leave home to get sh!tfaced.

Red Leatherman said...

In regards to the comment at 2:35, "you can drink and drive" while that is true and in fact you can drive drunk as well but you can still get a citation for driving under the influence even if your not drunk. Even if you have only had one beer you are under the influence. As far as public transportation or walking to a bar reducing DWI's, that is true but Texas can still arrest you for public intoxication.
I truly appreciate the post by Charlie O at 9:35 and I hate to toss another stick in the spokes like this but it seems
/start sarcasm Our lawmakers really work much harder than we give them credit for

Don said...

There is no "dui" in texas except for minors, who are under a "any detectable amount" mandate. Anything else is a DWI. they don't issue a citation for it. They cuff 'em and stuff 'em.

Red Leatherman said...

@ Don, I've read enough of your comments here that I give what you say more credence than Wikipedia. So thanks for the info Sir. I heard the story from my brother. The punch line was when the cop said, "I can still write you up for dui" and he did. What I now recall is that my brother was living in California at the time. The story is second hand and I wasn't there.
I remember when it was legal to pop the top on that first cold one on the way home from the beer store here in Tx.

Anonymous said...

You are all ignoring the minor problem of people not wanting a "neighborhood bar" in their neighborhood. They don't want drunks peeing on their lawns, the parking hassles, loud music, hookers and drugs, the noise at 2 am, etc. Remember, we do have those pesky laws restricting liquor permits in residential areas. I don't think you are going to see home owners vote for neighborhood bars any time soon, so that really isn't a practical solution.

Anonymous said...

11:11's comment provides support for my earlier point that many people would rather pass judgment than solve the problem. Grits, some of us believe the lack of shame in our society is part of the problem.
I don't doubt that government subsidized transportation would help with the DWI problem. So what? I doubt the cost benefit ratio is going to work. There is a reason why cities like Philadelphia are dying while people continue to move to the Sunbelt. Our way of life is more attractive to the average American. And of course, if there really was a demand for public transportation, the private sector would build it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:00, maybe so, but one thing's for sure: The neoprohibitionists at MADD won't be picketing against the NIMBY's and insisting that opposition to the idea kills people, no matter how many lives it might save. In the meantime, while they pursue their agenda, it doesn't hurt to talk about tactics that might actually HELP the problem.

To 7:12 - Really? Yours is a "pro-shame" agenda? Good luck with that.

We just disagree on the private sector and public transit. I believe there's a category of "public goods" that can't be delivered through the market and transit is one of them. We're already paying vast sums and it's the backbone of the economy. Where I've traveled, cities and nations that invest in it never regret it.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I read about a young entrepreneur who was on call to drive folks home from bars and restaurants. He had a collapsible moped which fit the trunk of a car and he would drive the moped to the location and then drive the party home in their car. I think he was in the Dallas area. I thought that was a great idea.

Anonymous said...

The American attitude is that we can “fix” anything that is found unpleasant.

Homosexuality was criminalized as was inter racial marriage.
Think masturbation and “sex toys” are a sin. Make it illegal. Again.

Teen sex. Do I even need to go into what we've done to the natural exploration of teen sexuality? Or the Drug War? Can't get another Prohibition going? Pass laws that make it impossible for neighborhood bars to exist and illegal to even walk home after a couple of beers while watching a football game. Cigarettes and cigars? Tax them into oblivion and make it illegal to smoke them anywhere except your own home. Let's not forget those who want to make it illegal to even do that if you have children within 100 yards.

Are you unhappy? We can fix that with a new law. Or at least some really good happy pills courtesy of your doctor. Does something cause injury or death? Well unless there's a good lobbying block behind the industry or practice, sure....we can pass a law against it. It's illegal to kill yourself. If you muck up the effort, you too can land in jail for breaking yet another law. Forget you already had enough problems, we'll add to the list. Are you poor? We'll get you then too.

Seems whatever one does, there's someone out there who wants to pass a law against it because while it may not directly affect them, it offends their delicate sensibilities. While many laws are there for a good reason, we have way too many who have just been enacted on the basis of emotional reactions to unfortunate events. It's tragic when something horrible happens. I lost a man I loved to a drunk driver many years ago and while the pain is still there, even I understand that you can't fix everything and that bad things happening are a part of living. Trying to micro manage the lives of every citizen in this country doesn't stop them from doing as they will, it doesn't stop bad things from happening and it doesn't stop death. All it does is feed a legal system that's become a monster and is out of control.

Don't drink and drive is a simple concept and a good one. But in the effort to enforce that good and simple concept, we've passed more and more laws that seem to be making the effort not to drink and drive harder to accomplish. If the powers that be want to initiate another Prohibition and not learn from the consequences of the last Great Experiment, let them go ahead and try. It would be interesting to see how far they'd get against both the lobbying power of the industry and the tastes of the American people. In the meantime, they need to concentrate on those who endanger public safety and not some poor schmuck who walked home after a couple instead of driving. But of course if they want, the police can still arrest you while you sit on your barstool and indulge in that second drink. Don't they have more important things to do?

Anonymous said...

"...but you can still get a citation for driving under the influence even if your not drunk."

This is not the law in Texas. There is no DUI, except for minors.

Jim said...

The problem, of course, is that while everyone wants to prevent drunks from driving and killing people, no one wants to stop them from getting drunk. It's a money thing to those who don't want drunks to drive but don't want them to stop drinking, and a preference (be it civil liberties or dependency) thing to those who don't want to stop drinking in the first place. Prohibition didn't work because it employed the wrong approach. It may be that the loss of a driver's license for life, mandatory ignition restrictor, income tax surcharge, or other such drastic consequences for a first offense conviction is the answer, but it just seems wrong to punish only those who are the end users. Perhaps we should direct our attention to the other source of the problem, the folks who make money from the sale of alcohol... not likely; greed is perhaps the most powerful of emotions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jim, it's not that "no one wants to stop them from getting drunk." Lots of people do! MADD's neoprohibitionism is a case in point. Before that, the Womens Christian Temperance Union and their predecessors back to before the founding of the Republic have wanted to outlaw drinking, not just regulate it. Teetotalling is part of the national culture dating back to the Puritans and is a consistent and remarkable recurring strain in American politics.

More accurately, most people are unwilling to live with the unintended consequences as witnessed during Prohibition and now the drug war. Given that history, knowingly creating black markets is a policy choice fraught with predictably bad consequences, not just a "statement" such as one might make in blog comments.

To 9:40, you're technically correct but IMO .08 is problematically low, catching too many in the social drinking environment when most drunks who cause crashes have BACs much higher.

Charlie O said...

I can see that many of you Anonymous posters have most likely never wandered much farther than your front lawn. To 07:00, Baltimore, Philly, and hundreds of cities and towns have neighborhood bars with none of the problems you bring up. They are NEIGHBORHOOD bars. They cater to the people who live there. Everyone knows everyone else. Just like Cheers, they even know your name.

To Anonymous 7:12. I live about a 100 miles east of Philadelphia. It's real news to me and probably most of its residents that its dying. And incidentally, Philly has great public transportation. I take the train there and never need a car while I'm there. There are buses, trains, subways, etc. I can even catch NJ Rail from there and go across the river. Heck I can even get to Atlantic City without a car. Amazing! (Unless of course, you were talking about Philadelphia, Mississippi, then I take it all back.)

Mark # 1 said...

Thanks for the perspective, Charlie O.

The company in Dallas that will drive you home is called "Wingman Chauffeur Service.

Of course, any remedy that fails to inflict the proper amount of punishment upon the sinner will offend many sensibilities; at least those sensibilities that are on public display.

Anonymous said...

"IMO .08 is problematically low, catching too many in the social drinking environment"

You do realize that .08 equals to about 4 beers for the average sized person. Generally 5 beers since in the hour it took you to drink the 4 beers your body eliminated one of them. That's a lot of liquid and a lot of beer. Don't know if I'd call that social drinking.

Try Again said...

Two drinks per hour gets the average man up around .08

Anonymous said...

Two drinks per hour gets the average man up around .08

Ya, after 12 hours of drinking, you sot.

R. Shackleford said...

What makes you think they actually want to reduce DUI's? I see no evidence of that. Seems to me that leos love DUI's, generates tons of revenue for the state, by shearing folks who are usually non-violent and wish to make as few waves as possible. Yet another money grubbing tactic from the good folks who routinely squeeze every cent from everyone who comes within their reach.

Anonymous said...

11:32, I've never seen a fine for DWI that seemed outrageous. I've heard some ecconomists estimate that each person arrested for DWI ought to pay 8,000.