An annual survey has revealed information about drunken driving arrests across Illinois.
As the state’s largest city, Chicago had the highest number of DUI arrests last year at nearly 1,900. Rita Kreslin, executive director of the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, said things have been sliding in the wrong direction.
“Chicago [arrests] has been declining for years,” Kreslin said. “I don’t think it’s because DUI is not a priority for them. They’ve got a lot of other issues going on and where they need resources right now is different.”
Among all other cities, Rockford tops the list, as it has the past four years on the survey. The northern Illinois city made 552 DUI arrests last year, up nearly 13 percent from 2017.
“In the last fifteen years, Rockford has made the top ten every year,” Kreslin said. “It’s mostly because of the emphasis that they put on DUI enforcement. It’s a huge issue in Rockford. They’re a pretty large area themselves and they’ve always put that as a huge priority.”
DUI arrests jumped in other areas of the state, like Bloomington (+30.5%) and Aurora (+36.8%). The highest DUI arrest rate in the state was in Lombard, which had nearly 5.5 arrests per sworn officer.
Nearly 700 police agencies across the state were surveyed with 81 percent responding. AAIM has been conducting the study annually since 1990.
At the same time, the organization is concerned about a potential rise in impaired drivers starting next year when marijuana becomes legal in the state.
“We’ve been speaking out about it since medical marijuana was legalized,” Kreslin said. “We’re not against anybody being able to use a drug that’s been prescribed to them, but just like any other drug, that doesn’t mean you can operate machinery, getting out on the road and putting people at risk.”
Kreslin is particularly worried about young drivers who might not realize the effects of marijuana or the relative strength of the strains on the market today.
“We’ve seen through our education programs that they’ve always minimized marijuana as something less harmful than alcohol,” Kreslin said. “There’s a myth you can drive better when you’re high and it’s just not true.”
Kreslin encouraged additional law enforcement training, public awareness strategies, and prosecution to help prevent deaths and injuries caused by impaired driving. She said AIMM has had great success through holding victim impact panels across the state. At these events, families affected by impaired driving speak to DUI defendants who have been ordered by a court to attend.
“We have no doubt that any person who sits in a panel and listens to someone pour out their heart and illustrate how they lost their loved one could not possibly leave that room without being touched,” Kreslin said.