In 2010 and 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was making about 3,100 arrests each year for driving under the influence. Then, in 2012, Uber arrived; Lyft followed the next year. Suddenly, the number of DUI arrests started to drop.
By 2017, DUI arrests had fallen 32% from five years earlier. Though DUIs started ticking up again in 2018 and 2019, they’re still 30% below their 2010 level. (Coincidentally, 2018 was the year recreational marijuana became legal in California.)
There could be many reasons for the decrease, such as more awareness of DUI penalties, such as fines and jail time. Yet the Sheriff’s Department said rideshares do help.
“We stress to all of our community members the importance of using rideshare,” said Sgt. David Jennings, of the traffic division at the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s Lancaster station. “There’s no reason why anyone should get a DUI. Anyone who is drinking should partake in those services.”
The department conducts law enforcement for various LA County cities – from Compton to Malibu – as well as unincorporated areas. Crosstown was unable to get reliable data on DUI arrests for the City of Los Angeles.
A spokesperson for Uber said trips peaking at prime drinking times, such as Friday and Saturday nights.
“Drinking and driving is 100% preventable,” the spokesperson said.
Studies conducted in other cities, however, have shown inconsistent connections between rideshares and drunk driving. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that Uber’s impact on alcohol-related crashes in four American cities had varying results. Other variables, such as city density and availability of parking, also had an effect on alcohol-related crashes, researchers found.
Despite the decrease since Uber and Lyft came on the scene, DUIs are still a serious issue here in LA County.
In LA County, almost 25,000 people were arrested for DUIs in the last decade by the Sheriff’s Department, averaging out to about six DUI arrests a day.
In 2019, 5% of the DUI arrests to the Sheriff’s Department resulted in injury or death.
Of the four LA cities with the highest number of DUI arrests last year, West Hollywood, famous for its nightlife, saw the biggest decline — dropping nearly 34% from 2018 to 2019.
Of the other top cities for DUI arrests, Compton saw the largest increase, at 120%. Lancaster, located in the Antelope Valley, saw the second-highest increase — over 20%. Both stations are addressing DUIs through increased traffic enforcement.
Jeff Yeh, a local criminal defense attorney, has represented numerous clients in DUI cases at his private law firm. He has even had cases where both his client and the person they hit were charged with DUIs.
He said that sometimes people were already out with their vehicle, and did not plan on drinking ahead of time. Instead of leaving their cars parked overnight, which could lead to parking fines, they opted to drive home intoxicated, instead of using Uber or Lyft.
Base fines for people arrested for DUI in California are between $390 – $1,000. With penalty assessments, fines can be even higher. None of this includes fees for towing and vehicle impound or someone’s insurance premium going up.
Shields for Families, a non-profit in South LA, has provided DUI prevention classes for more than 10 years through their Place of Family Program.
“[Avoiding a] DUI is like [addressing] any other substance abuse issue,” said spokesperson Leyla McGuire. “It’s up to the person who is going through it and what they want or don’t want to change about their lifestyle.”
How we did it: We examined Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department publicly available data for DUI arrests from Jan. 1, 2010 – Dec. 31, 2019. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.