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COVID-19 pandemic leads to record decrease in Missouri DUI crashes and deaths

Missouri Highway Patrol said drunk drivers are still on the roadways. They're making preparations for the holiday weekend
Credit: Missouri State Highway Patrol
Missouri State Highway Patrol

MISSOURI, USA — The pandemic has offered a few unexpected benefits for drivers, from shorter commutes to a moratorium on parking enforcement in some cities. Another positive: crashes involving drivers under the influence are down this year.

That might change as the region begins Independence Day celebrations and businesses start to reopen.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department data shows that there were fewer than half as many DUI incidents from January through May in 2020 compared to the city’s average number of DUIs for the same months from 2015 through 2019.

Missouri Highway Patrol data shows the same trend for drug- and alcohol-involved crashes, which are down across the state compared to previous years. From 2016 through 2019, the months of January through June average more than 100 deaths and 1,700 injuries in crashes statewide where drugs or alcohol were a factor. The total for 2020 so far is 69 deaths and 937 injuries.

RELATED: Stay-at-home orders lead to safest April for drivers in 18 years

The rate of DUI crashes in the first half of the year routinely averages more than 500 per month, but in 2020 the MSHP data shows just 111 drug or alcohol involved crashes in April and 168 in May. The current tally for DUI crashes for June is just 89.

And for the first time in five years, there were no deaths in crashes involving drugs or alcohol in April or June within the Troop C region, covering St. Louis and the surrounding counties, according to data published so far.

With many factors affecting safety on the roads, it’s hard to know if there are actually fewer people driving impaired or if those drivers are just less likely to crash because of decreased traffic.

Corporal Juston Wheetley with MSHP Troop C says that despite the DUI decreases, there are still impaired drivers on the road.

“The short answer is we are still arresting people for DWI and still seeing DWI related crashes,” said Wheetley.

Social distancing regulations haven’t stopped officers from conducting DUI stops and tests, he added. “For our field sobriety tests, we still administer them as we normally would. Our officers are provided with the appropriate equipment to keep themselves safe.”

The positive trend might change soon. Businesses and bars across the state are reopening, and the July 4 holiday is usually a hot spot of impaired driving and crashes. Over the holiday weekend in 2013, traffic crashes killed 17 people across the state.

According to MSHP data for July 3rd, 4th, and 5th from 2016 through 2019, drug- and alcohol-involved crashes killed 13 people and injured 152.

RELATED: July Fourth weekend will test Americans' discipline

This year, there are fewer large events planned due to the pandemic, which may cut down on traffic. But residents have noticed an increase in fireworks displays in their own neighborhoods.

“Our plans for the highways haven’t changed. In fact we have added more special enforcement projects for this year to help reduce traffic crashes and fatalities on our roadways.  Throughout the weekend we will have DWI saturations, speed saturations and hazardous moving saturations throughout the Troop C area,” Wheetley said.