Is Uber cutting down on drunken driving arrests?

DWIs down since Uber arrived in Houston

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 300,000 people drive drunk in the United States every single day.

Kae Pennywell of Cypress, Texas, knows what that leads to. Her 20-year-old son, Coy, was killed by a drunken driver who was three times over the legal limit for alcohol.

"I mean that drunk driver just cut my heart out, they just cut it out," Pennywell said.

But suddenly, thousands of Houstonians, like Janet Haworth, who lives in the Museum District, are choosing a new, high-tech way to ride around town. They are choosing Uber.

Uber is the fast-growing, ride-sharing service you order electronically with a few taps on your smartphone.

Uber began running in Houston 18 months ago.

"Since we launched in Houston, we've provided over 3.5 million safe rides for our customers here in Houston," said Uber Houston General Manager Sarfraz Maredia.

Janet Haworth, her husband Bob and their two grown children use Uber all the time, so they never have to worry about celebrating and having to drive home afterward.

"It's got to make the roads safer," Haworth said. "You're going to have less people drinking and driving on the road and it's so easy to use."

Channel 2 Investigates crunched the numbers and found that over the past 18 months, the same time that Uber has been operating in Houston, the number of drunken driving arrests in the city has dropped dramatically.

In 2013, before Uber's arrival, there were 6,205 arrests for DWI. One year later, in 2014, with Uber, that figure dropped to 5,182 -- a reduction in arrests of 16.5 percent.

Over the first six months of 2015, there have been 2,088 DWI arrests, which means, if the trend stays true, we are on track in Houston to end the year with roughly 4,176 arrests for DWI, for another yearly reduction of 19.4 percent -- that's if the second six months are the same as the first.

KPRC 2 News asked police Chief Charles McClelland if he thinks Uber's presence in our city has in any way reduced the number of drunk drivers on the road. In other words, is there a connection between Uber and the drop in DWI arrests?

"I think any type of alternative mode of transportation other than people getting behind the wheel drunk yourself has had some kind of impact," McClelland said.

Janet Haworth, who's ridden Uber more than 40 times this year, and insists her children take it anytime they are going to go out and celebrate, said Uber is definitely having an impact.

"I know so many of my friends are now taking Uber and taking many fewer rides on their own after a night out," Haworth told KPRC 2 News.

If you would like to try Uber out for free, Uber's general manager has arranged a deal for KPRC 2 viewers.

Just punch in the promo code ridesafehou when you order your first Uber ride and Uber will provide the ride free up to a $20 fare. Customers will have to pay anything more than the $20 fare.

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