CITY HALL — The number of people arrested for drunken driving is down by about half from a decade ago, a study by an advocacy group has found.
The Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists released an annual statewide study last week showing that Chicago DUI arrests were down ever so slightly from 3,321 in 2014 to 3,315 last year.
But that's down more than half from the high-water mark of 6,896 in 2005, and throughout the 2000s Chicago DUI arrests hovered around 6,000 before beginning a steady decline in 2008.
Bob Cebrzynski, president of the alliance's board of directors, called it "an encouraging sign," saying, "Maybe public awareness over the last 20 years with 'Don't Drink and Drive' is finally hitting home.
"Maybe Uber has something to do with it," he added. "Maybe Lyft has something to do with it."
Police officials, however, say decades of common-sense advisories on the dangers of drinking and driving are finally sinking in.
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that for the last several years police and other agencies "have been doing a lot to raise awareness on the dangers of drinking and driving. Between all of the federal campaigns like 'over the limit, under arrest' and proactive enforcement from state and local police departments, I think people are much more aware of the dangers today than perhaps 10 years ago.
"Also, I think the zero-tolerance approach has begun to resonate and thankfully we see much fewer tragedies."
Chicago Police have targeted given areas for enforcement, including roadside stops, in an effort to combat and discourage drunken driving.
At the same time, public-service campaigns have put the cost of defending a DUI charge at $10,000 and up, a powerful deterrent on top of the stigma and the simple danger involved in getting caught driving drunk.
The suburban-based alliance generally cheers DUI arrest numbers, insisting "DUI arrests and other law-enforcement efforts are the most significant deterrents to impaired driving."
And Cebrzynski applauded that as well, pointing out six of the 10 Illinois police officers with the most DUI arrests were in the Chicago Police Department, with Lakeview's Town Hall District especially active.
"There are guys and ladies out there really working their tails off," Cebrzynski said.
And the group acknowledged that social attitudes on drunken driving are evolving as well.
"Over the last three decades, progress has been made to help eliminate the devastation caused by impaired driving in Illinois. While frustratingly slow, many lives have been saved," said Rita Kreslin, the group's executive director. "Focused efforts and cooperation of law-enforcement agencies, traffic-safety advocates and communities have helped to prevent crashes and save thousands of lives."
Chicago DUI arrests have steadily declined: 3,395 in 2013, down significantly from the 2000s, when the Police Department charged 4,341 in 2009, 5,262 in 2008 and 6,257 in 2007.
The alliance is an Illinois activist group founded in 1982 by victims of drunken driving. Cebrzynski himself lost a daughter to a drunken driver. It's been charged by the state to conduct the study through an Illinois Department of Transportation grant for 26 years.
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