As the holidays approach, Delaware offers Lyft discounts in the ongoing battle against impaired driving

The state wants to help Delawareans enjoy the year’s busiest nights for drinking—by not driving.

From 3 p.m. Nov. 27 through 2 a.m. Dec. 1, Delaware is offering $15 discount codes on Lyft rides statewide.

The initiative—Thanksgiving SoberLift—starts a day before Thanksgiving, nicknamed Blackout Wednesday for its bar-hopping popularity, a riff on Black Friday, the shopping frenzy that comes two days later.

“We are working hard to ensure everyone has a fun night but a safe ride home,” says Cynthia Cavett, spokesperson for Delaware’s Office of Highway Safety, which initiated the program.

People seeking the $15 discount Lyft code (and they can get only one all weekend) should text “SoberLift” to 99000.

Thanksgiving SoberLift builds on SoberRide (a Lyft-Washington Regional Alcohol Program campaign that began in 2017) and SoberLift, which ran the last two Fourth of July weekends in the Sussex beaches, where many traditionally party hard. In Delaware from 2014 to 2018, the Fourth of July weekend saw 53 DUI-related crashes—46 in the Sussex beaches—and five DUI-related fatalities.

At the beach, 168 SoberLift discount codes were redeemed in July, with the tab paid by sponsors. Another SoberLift program that was run for St. Patrick’s Day resulted in 291 people texting in for the code, and 101 people claiming it.

For Thanksgiving SoberLift, the Office of Highway Safety is again relying on sponsors who have supported SoberLift in the past. So far, these include Grain Craft Bar + Kitchen, Breakthru Beverage Delaware, Washington Street Ale House, Trolley Square Oyster House, Kelly’s Logan House and First State Brew Tours.

Thanksgiving SoberLift will be promoted basically everywhere, says Mike Cordrey, director of behavior change for Aloysius Butler & Clark, a Wilmington advertising agency that for a decade has helped market Delaware’s efforts against impaired driving. “We’re always looking for different ways to get people not to drink and drive,” he says, noting that Senior Account Executive Andrew Raftovich and others at AB&C are just starting to plan Delaware’s 2020 marketing to fight “impaired driving”the term preferred by law-enforcement agencies, in part because it covers driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol. The most significant of those substances, according to Cordrey, are marijuana, opioids and sedatives like Xanax.

Ongoing Campaigns

While campaigns based on ride sharing are recent, the Office of Highway Safety spearheads several ongoing efforts to reduce impaired driving.

Returning again through New Year’s Day is Delaware’s Safe Family Holiday Campaign. In 2017, it notched more than a thousand pledges to safe driving and walking. It has featured carolers using revised lyrics, such as this version of “Winter Wonderland”:

Drank away, voice is slurry
Start to sway, vision’s blurry
We know it is wrong
So pass the keys along
Driving in a winter wonderland.

That campaign joins enhanced impaired-driving patrols by police officers on overtime pay, also running through Jan. 1. A drive-sober campaign runs year-round.

One prominent continuing program is Checkpoint StrikeForce, a multistate and multi-agency campaign that began in 2002. A recent effort—one checkpoint in each Delaware county, from 10 p.m. July 12 to 2 a.m. July 13—involved 2,563 cars and seven driving under the influence arrests. Agencies also logged 15 drug arrests, eight wanted-person apprehensions, seven child restraint arrests, 72 other traffic arrests, four other criminal arrests, 28 seatbelt charges and six cellphone/distracted driving charges.

Drivers can get text alerts about checkpoint locations by going to Word also spreads as patrons report back to their friends who are still drinking. Officials are hopeful that learning about checkpoints will dissuade impaired people from driving. And then there are saturation patrols, which catch drivers trying to evade those checkpoints.

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety studies, sobriety checkpoints can reduce alcohol-related traffic fatalities by as much as 20 percent.

Through Sept. 30, there had been 3,116 DUI arrests in Delaware. There have been 11 impaired fatalities so far, but many others are still under investigation.

Good Grades For Delaware

For its efforts, Delaware gets four out of five stars in Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s 2018 Report to the Nation. The state gets full credit for its 2014 all-offender ignition interlock law, those sobriety checkpoints, and its no-refusal policy on sobriety tests. MADD gives Delaware half credit on administrative license revocation and child endangerment. The group wants Delaware to “make ignition interlocks available to first offenders upon arrest, enact a law making child endangerment a felony [and] advertise the ignition interlock law during twice-yearly federally funded crackdowns on drunk driving.”

“Delaware in 2017 had 32 [DUI] deaths representing 27 percent of all traffic deaths,” says Frank Harris, director of state government affairs for MADD. “The 27 percent of all traffic deaths ranks 15 out of 51 for states plus DC. This is the best measure on how a state is handling drunk driving.”

MADD’s data shows First State DUI deaths declining, from a high of 66 in 1982 to generally in the 30s in the last few years, even though more Delawareans are on the road.

Delaware looks good to (third least-dangerous state for drunk driving) and WalletHub (ninth strictest on DUI penalties), which, citing federal data, credits crackdowns for some of the improvement.

Use of ignition interlocks and the .08 blood alcohol concentration standard for drunk driving (the U.S. government in 2000 forced states to lower the BAC threshold or risk losing federal highway funds) were also key to the reduction, says Harris.

MADD itself promotes at least eight solutions, and the most important, according to Harris, are “interlocks, advanced vehicle technology and high-visibility law enforcement.”

Shared Rides, Reduced Risk

Ride-sharing programs are making an additional impact. A 2015 report by MADD and Uber found a 7 percent decrease in drunk driving in cities with ride-share options. “After hearing about Uber’s impact on drunk driving, 93 percent of [the 807 people surveyed for the report] would recommend a friend take Uber instead of driving if the friend had been drinking,” the report says.

“Ride-sharing programs make it easier to find alternative ways home after a night of drinking and are still not utilized as much as they should be by people who drink alcohol and drive,” Harris says. “We know this because in 2017, nearly 11,000 people died in drunk driving crashes.”

Education and enforcement agencies “can acknowledge and discuss the culture surrounding drinking and driving being a negative behavior,” says Richard Klepner, traffic safety program manager for the Office of Highway Safety, “but there’s still a gap when it comes to marijuana and driving, and other drugged-driving issues that seem to be affecting the younger/millennial driving behavior.”

“Millennials and Gen Z’ers around the world are drinking less than older generations did at their ages,” according to Business Insider. The decline is attributed to multiple factors, including an interest in health, favoring marijuana instead and fretting about whether pictures of drunks will hit social media.

“Just one DUI can change your life,” a state web page says. Financial, legal and personal consequences could include loss of the driver’s license, fines and fees (about $6,300 for the first offense), jail time, counseling, higher insurance premiums and an ignition interlock. Not to mention that dreaded social media shaming.

DUI By The Numbers

Some 4,300 people were arrested for driving under the influence in Delaware in 2018, according to the state Office of Highway Safety. Key breakdowns:

88 percent were first-time offenders, 12 percent repeat offenders.
76 percent were males
66 percent were at or above 0.13 blood alcohol concentration. (Delaware and most other states define drunk driving as 0.08 BAC)
58 percent were arrested on the weekend—14 percent Friday,  22 percent Saturday and 22 percent Sunday.

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