With Lincoln residents staying home and bars and restaurants closed to help stifle the coronavirus pandemic, traffic is down citywide. A side effect showing up in Lincoln police data: drunk driving has been cut in half.
Prior to the local emergency declared on March 16 by the mayor, the Lincoln Police Department responded to nearly three DUI calls a day on average. In the remaining days of March, that number is about 1.5.
According to Chief Jeffrey Bliemeister, the decrease in traffic volume directly correlates with the reduced number of DUIs.
“There’s less cars on the road, less people out, more people that are complying with the requests, really because they have the mindset they want to keep not only themselves safe, but everybody they’re interacting with safe,” he said.
In a press briefing on April 7, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird said studies completed by Lincoln Transportation and Utilities showed traffic is down by 40 percent. The city is seeing the largest decrease in traffic in the morning hours by 45-50 percent, she said, and a 20 percent drop during lunch hour.
“We appreciate residents who are following the recommendations of our healthcare professionals and are staying home as much as possible. You are helping us flatten the curve and make progress in our fight against COVID-19,” she said. “Our traffic data reflects the efforts you are making, and Lincoln Transportation and Utilities tracks this data 24-hours a day.”
Similarly, LPD has seen a 40 percent decrease in accident calls following the local emergency order. Prior to March 16, LPD responded to an average of 25 accidents a day. Now officers respond to 14.
According to Sara Draper, a program specialist for the nonprofit organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, this change in calls indicates people are choosing to stay home, which reduces the chance of driving while intoxicated.
“When people are making that choice, it is going to reduce drinking and driving by default,” she said. “When you aren’t driving and don’t have anywhere to go, it makes the choice for you to not drink and drive.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, aims to eliminate drunk or drugged driving by working with law enforcement, educating the public and reducing underage drinking. Despite the drop in DUI calls, Draper said the organization’s work is unaffected.
“Unfortunately, even though there is a decrease in DUI’s, there are still people making the choice to drive impaired in our city and our state right now,” she said. “We are dedicated to working to stop this crime all together and our work continues even when we see lower numbers because there are still people making the choice.”
However, Draper remains optimistic about the decrease in impaired driving and hopes permanent change comes out of this unprecedented situation.
“If we could keep this decrease even after we all are out in the world again, it would be a good thing,” she said. “We are safer any time there is a decrease in impaired driving because every time someone gets behind the wheel after drinking, they are dangerous to our community. They have made their car into a weapon and we aren’t sure what it is going to hit.”
On March 25, Gov. Pete Ricketts closed all bar and restaurant dining areas in Lancaster County and ordered them to move to takeout or delivery options. With this change in the community, Draper advises residents to not use alcohol as a coping mechanism while at home.
“While we are not anti-alcohol here at MADD, we are about healthy and safe choices all around. It is easy to default to an unhealthy choice of drinking too much to get through this crisis,” she said. “Instead, use other tools out there, so when we are done with this you have a healthy and safe relationship with alcohol.”
Draper urges residents to stay home if they have started drinking, as even just a few drinks can impair one’s ability to drive. It only takes making the choice one time to potentially take a life, she said.
“Wouldn’t it be awful to make it through this trying time, just to come out of it and end up in jail because of the choice to drink and drive?” she said. “Why not use this time to make the choice to always make the safe choice?”