By the numbers
New York state misdemeanor DWI arrests (including alcohol and drugs):
Age group 2005 2014 % change
16-17 440 137 -68.9%
18-20 4,034 2,047 -49.3%
21-25 10,851 8,080 -25.5%
50 and older 5,169 6,035 +16.8%
Total 45,151 36,417 -19.3%
For complete state and county statistics, go to www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ ojsa/arrests/index.htm.
Source: New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services
Kids seem to be getting the message better than some of their parents: Drunken driving is not cool.
The anti-drunken driving message is getting out across New York state. Arrests dropped for the fifth year in row, and numbers are way down over the course of a decade.
Most notable are the declines among young drivers — and a glaring exception to the trend: Drunk driving arrests have increased among drivers ages 50 and over.
The biggest decline since 2005 among any age group can be found among drivers normally considered the most reckless: Those 20 and younger, according to numbers compiled by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. From 2005 to 2014, misdemeanor DWI arrests (which includes drugs and alcohol) in New York are down 68.9 percent for 16 and 17 year olds, 49.3 percent for 18 to 20 year olds and 25.5 percent for 21 to 25 year olds.
“That age group gets it,” said Richard C. Mallow, executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving New York State. “They do because that is how they were brought up.”
Statewide, misdemeanor drunken-driving arrests for those 50 and older rose 16.8 percent between 2005 and 2014, and 2.9 percent just last year. That is the only age group that saw an increase both year to year and over the decade, according to DCJS figures.
The best answer for the age anomaly given the saturation of anti-DWI messaging goes back to learned behavior in formative years, experts said. The full marketing push against drunken driving — with a corresponding crackdown by law enforcement — did not begin until the 1980s, meaning those 50 and older started driving in an era when getting behind the wheel after drinking was dealt with more leniently.
Schoharie County Sheriff Anthony F. Desmond still remembers the Black Friday night in 1977 when he and a partner had five drunken drivers pulled over simultaneously. He sees the drop in DWIs both in statistics and on the street, and he says he’s not surprised at the sharper drop among younger drivers.
“These younger people are getting more education about driving while drinking. The people over 50 grew up in a time when it wasn’t pressed into them,” he said. “When I grew up, I didn’t see much education on it. Now it’s pressed into the kids pretty good, even in beer advertisements on TV.”
“There is a lot of education being done, whether it starts in the health classes in seventh and eighth grade,” said state police Technical Sgt. Doug Paquette. “There are commercials geared toward kids. They are being bombarded. It’s just sinking in.”
Older drivers see those same warnings, but Desmond believes in order to stick, the anti-DWI message has to first be heard in formative years.
“Maybe there is something to this. The kids now have designated drivers out there, and they are not consuming as much,” he said. With older drivers, “that is very tough, because they feel they lived that long and no one is going to tell them what to do.”
Even if they are drinking, younger people don’t consider drinking and driving to be socially acceptable.
“It’s not a cool thing. There are no accolades,” said 21-year-old Jonathan Lee-Rey of Yonkers, a senior at Skidmore College. “There are plenty of options.”
Robert Murphy, Saratoga County’s Stop DWI coordinator, points to another factor in the decline among younger drivers: Penalties for drunken driving are harsher for drivers under age 21, including revocation for up to a year if convicted. That said, count him among those who believe education plays a key role in the disparities.
“There are no programs for the over-50 people,” Murphy said.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles could not provide an age breakdown on drivers in the state. Nationally, there are 2.5 drivers 50 and older for every driver under 25, according to the Federal Highway Administration; drivers ages 50 and up make up just over 35 percent of the driving public. In 2005, the group represented 38.3 percent of those with driver’s licenses.
In New York, drivers 50 and older accounted for 16.6 percent of all misdemeanor DWI arrests in 2014, with 6,035 of the 36,417 recorded.
Although showing a percentage decline, drivers 21-25 were the age group accounting for the largest number of misdemeanor DWI arrests for the year — 8,080, or 22.2 percent.
There are some other explanations for why older drivers may be getting pulled over more. Drivers ages 35 to 54 and 55 to 64 drive more miles per year than their younger counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Drivers 65 and older drive less, but still more than those ages 16 to 19.
Still, the experts continually cite the education angle.
“That’s always the answer, get ’em young, and that’s with anything,” Mallow said. “When we grew up, drunk driving wasn’t even a crime.”
Schenectady County has seen the biggest drop historically and year to year in the Capital Region. DWI arrests dropped 25.6 percent in 2014, to 227 — less than half the 468 drunken-driving arrests tallied in 2005 — while felony DWI arrests declined from 44 to 40 (age breakdown by counties are not available).
The downward progression has not been steady. New York state recorded a 10-year high for DWI arrests in 2007 and a decade record for felony DWI arrests in 2010.
Schenectady police Lt. Mark McCracken said he was surprised by the higher numbers for older drivers, noting that regardless of when people started driving, they have been bombarded with messaging over the years.
“You turn on the TV, and that stuff is on constantly,” he said. “Obviously it’s a serious crime, and it’s taken very seriously. There really is no excuse.”
Like Desmond, Mallow of MADD is not sanguine that the numbers will dip for older drivers.
“If they don’t get the message by now, probably not,” he said. “But you have to keep on plugging away.”