Uber Effect: Rideshare services may cut drunken driving arrests in Springfield
On graduation night for Missouri State University, downtown bars were packed, and Uber drivers were busy.
"In the beginning of the night, I was taking people to bars, so now I'm going back downtown to pick them up and take them home," said Neyko Dominguez, an Uber driver.
When the rideshare company first launched in Springfield in November, police officers were hoping it would make their nights a little easier and the streets a lot safer. In recent months, drunken driving arrests have started trending downward.
"Realistically my thought was, 'What took so long?'" said Adam Woody, a criminal defense attorney in Springfield.
Woody noticed a quick and sharp decline.
"Interestingly, a lot of times, clients, as an excuse for how they got the DWI, they would say they were waiting for a taxi for hours and just couldn't get one downtown. It's slow," Woody said.
With rideshare services like Uber, no matter what time of day or night, you just have to tap on the rideshare app, and it pops up the drivers closest to you as well as their reviews.
"It takes literally no time to get an Uber: 10 minutes max," said Gabby Heth.
So far the numbers show a downward trend. Drunken driving arrests for January 2016 were 64 compared to just 38 for January 2017. February went from 66 down to 48, year-to-year, and March went from 70 to 52, year-to-year.
"We still make a number of DWI arrests," said Springfield Police Lt. Stacey Parton.
Parton said the department doesn't have enough data yet to attribute that shift to rideshare services but sees it as a positive factor.
"That's one less person that is out there that's going to get involved in a crash, possibly injure or kill somebody because of driving impaired," Parton said.
Dominguez drives for the extra cash and said the bulk of his business comes at closing time.
"I've met some different kind of people. Truthful, drunk people," he said.
The hope is the ease of using the apps, like Uber and Lyft, may help save lives.
"It's a great opportunity, and I don't see why people would pass it up," Heth said.
Numbers around the country are mixed. Other recent studies, including one from Oxford and the University of Southern California, have shown ridesharing had no effect on drinking-related or holiday- and weekend-related fatalities in other places.