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DUI: Chicago

Ten a night—that's the number of Chicagoans pulled over for driving under the influence, on average. A total of 3,795 people were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Chicago last year, according to Chicago Police data.

That annual total has been on the decline since 2008, when nearly 4,300 people were arrested for various DUI offenses, from causing accidental deaths (there were six in 2008; four in 2012) to operating a motorboat or watercraft while intoxicated (three in 2008; zero in 2012).

All these numbers come amid increased attention on DUI incidents statewide and in Chicago. In May, the National Transportation Safety Board urged state governments to lower the blood-alcohol concentration permitted for drivers to 0.05 percent from 0.08, the current threshold for a DUI. And in July, Illinois took its locking Breathalyzer system for repeat offenders a step further by requiring users to install cameras in their cars as well.

Some Chicagoans think the stigma against DUIs is catching up with the act.

"I think that generationally that was something that was instilled, that you need to have a designated driver," said Jenell Filline, 22, of Logan Square. "Talking to my mom, she said it just wasn't a big focus before."

But for many, drunk driving is still cause for concern, particularly after sports games and other major events that draw people from all over the Chicago area with cars. "After games here, you're pretty closed to getting clipped even though you have the green walk sign," said Christie Dulang, 33, of Wrigleyville. "It's the [people from the suburbs] that come here to party and then have to drive home. Most of us that live in the city, we don't have cars. There are drunks on the CTA, and they're a pain in the ass, but at least they're not driving anywhere."

For people like Rita Kreslin, who has watched the system closely over the past decade both as the mother of a DUI victim and as executive director of the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, the daily numbers show Illinois still has a long way to go.

"Sit in any of the courtrooms, felony or misdemeanor, traffic court, you can see the volume of casing coming in and out--it's like a revolving door," she said. "While crashes are down and arrests are down from over 30 years, it's still obviously a problem."

DUI offenders range in age and background, but according to state data, most are young men who have been caught driving in the early morning. Men between the ages of 21 and 24 had the highest DUI arrest rate in Illinois in 2011, while about a quarter of DUI arrests were women, and nearly two-thirds of the state's DUI arrests were under the age of 35.

The most common time to get caught? Between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. In Chicago, the most common hour to get stopped is between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., when most bars close, according to Chicago Police data. One recent high-profile DUI-related death occurred in the early evening last May, when cyclist Bobby Cann was struck and killed by a car while riding in Old Town.

Illinois has received national praise for pioneering some measures to reduce the DUI rate. First-time DUI offenders in Illinois have their drivers licenses suspended unless they agree to have a Breath Alcohol Ignition Interlock Device installed in their cars. BAIID requires drivers to blow into a Breathalyzer hooked up to their car before they can start it. The system also keeps a record of those who blow above the blood alcohol limit, and how often they do it.

"One driver recorded 10 failures in a 60-day period of time," in 2012, said Jesse White, the Illinois secretary of state. "If these individuals did not have this device in their auto, someone could have died as a result."

The cost of the Breathalyzer plus camera: About $1,500, and maybe some of your dignity, White said.

Imagine, "A young man, just met a beautiful young lady, wants to take them on a date, and the first thing they have to do is blow into the device," he said. "I think that could make for a bad evening and an embarrassing evening."

Kreslin said the increasing social stigma against having a DUI record is also keeping some people from getting behind the wheel of a car after drinking.

"Thirty years ago, you just got a slap on the wrist and were told to be careful driving home. Today, I think even many young people get it and they're having designated drivers, but you always have that group, those individuals who think it's not going to happen to them."

rcromidas@tribune.com

 

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