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DWI arrests drop as more Erie County drivers use Uber, Lyft

Ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber as well as ignition interlock technology are getting some of the credit from officials for the decline in Erie County drunken driving arrests.

Police this year have made 1,336 drunken driving arrests, through July 8, compared with 1,420 during the same period last year, a 6 percent drop, according to figures released Wednesday.

Last year, police made 2,653 arrests, compared with 3,316 in 2013, a 20-percent decline.

"This is a very positive step," said county Central Police Services Commissioner James Jancewicz. "Fortunately, we're headed in the right direction."

County Executive Mark Poloncarz said he can't definitely prove ride-hailing services had a direct affect on the decline, but he called it one positive factor.

"It's tough to say it's the sole factor, but I have to believe it has helped because there's now another opportunity for someone to leave an establishment, house, bar or restaurant if they've had too many drinks and get a safe ride home," he said.

Ride-hailing services opened for business in Western New York on June 29, 2017.

Jancewicz said drunken driving arrests are falling across the state and the country, too. He attributed the decline to three factors: public awareness, policing, and prosecution of drunken drivers.

 

Erie County STOP-DWI Director John Sullivan credited tougher DWI sanctions and also the ignition interlock technology that keeps drunk drivers from starting their cars.

Some 30 years ago, the county recorded dozens of fatalities in drunken driving crashes each year. There were two such deaths last year, Sullivan said.

As part of Wednesday's press conference, Angie and Bob Kwiatkowski, whose daughter was killed by a drunken driver, said the foundation they helped set up 20 years ago would cease operations. The Crusade Against Impaired Driving Foundation will transfer its assets, $12,233, to Erie County's STOP-DWI Office, they said.

Their daughter, Deanna Russo, had led the foundation, but she moved to Ohio two years ago, That prompted the foundation board to decide to end its activities and transfer its remaining funds.

Sean Kirst: A grieving sister, a lifetime vow to fight drunken driving

"The worst thing in my life was having to bury my daughter," said Bob Kwiatkowski.

Karen Kwiatkowski was 18 and home from college on spring break when her vehicle was struck head-on by a drunken driver's vehicle. The drunken driver had been pulled over and jailed four hours earlier when police suspected him of drunken driving. The driver made bail, caused the crash that killed their daughter and then spent 10 years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

Though her passing has never gotten easier, the Kwiatkowskis said that knowing the DWI numbers have fallen significantly over time has helped them make peace with the foundation's closure.

County officials praised the work of the CAID Foundation and commended the Kwiatkowskis for their dedication and generosity.

"You truly are heroes in the county," Jancewicz said. "You've turned a tragedy into something that is going to help a lot of people on the road."

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