drunk driving in midtown

Thanks, Chris Daugherty, for linking to this CityLab article (What If the Best Way to End Drunk Driving Is to End Driving?) from Facebook. This is not a new article, but one worth thinking about.

In midtown, there are always drunk drivers on Friday and Saturday nights, sometimes other times. While vehicles don’t carry a label indicating what part of town they are from, I strongly suspect from the streets they are using and the directions they are heading that the drivers are from the suburbs. And if I’m in a bar, I notice that the most drunk people are the people talking about suburban places. None of this is to say that midtown people don’t drink, or that some of them don’t drive drunk, but the big problem, in my perception, is suburban drunk drivers.

Though I certainly don’t mean to discount the risk, the slower speed streets in midtown are probably not the big problem, where most crashes occur at lower speeds and result in injuries rather than fatalities. But for these people to get home, they are driving on the freeways and arterials, and that is where the fatalities occur. In my weekly news summary, I only keep track of pedestrian and bicyclist-involved crashes, but if I kept track of alcohol-caused or exacerbated crashes, the posts would be at least three times as long.

So why are these people coming to midtown to get drunk? Well, the places to get drunk in the suburbs are few and not very interesting. The cool places are in midtown. I don’t just say that because I live here, but because these people are voting their preferences by coming to midtown, and driving, at considerable risk to themselves and others.

So, the article. It suggests that we could largely eliminate drunk driving by providing public transportation alternatives. To some degree, we have alternatives. There are two issues, though: public transportation is not considered cool by the suburban population, or even in Sacramento in general. This is not true in some other places, where it is cool. The second problem is the “last mile,” getting from the light rail station or bus stop to home. The transit network is not dense enough in the suburbs to get people most of the way home. In fact, in the suburbs of the Sacramento region, it is not usually the “last mile” but “the last five miles.”

When drunk drivers (and here I’m not just thinking of the legal definition, but of a person who has had enough to drink that they shouldn’t be operating a motor vehicle) are stopped in midtown, some get warnings, some get citations. But none of them gets told to use public transportation instead of driving.

So here is an idea. If a person gets stopped but is not enough over the limit to get a ticket, they would receive a one-month suspension of drivers license and a free one-month pass on SacRT. Yes, this would cost some money, but if it converts drunk drivers to public transportation riders, the investment is worthwhile. This relatively mild consequence, one month of a changed life, would I think also encourage law enforcement to confront more drivers. Only a tiny fraction of the Friday and Saturday night drunks get stopped. When if we stopped them all, and got them onto public transit, or at least into Lyft, Uber, and taxis?

In the long run, some of these people who are stopped, suspended, and moved to public transit would start to realize that living in the suburbs when most of the interesting night life is in midtown, is a pretty crazy idea that can be solved not only by using public transit, but by moving to midtown and walking home from the bar. Nah, these are not my favorite people, but they’d be much closer to acceptable if they were simply drunk instead of drunk drivers.

Author: Dan Allison

Dan Allison is a Safe Routes to School Coordinator in the Sacramento area. Dan dances and backpacks, as much as possible.

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