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News 13 Investigates: DWIs dropping across Western North Carolina

In 2016, throughout much of Western North Carolina, the number of DWI arrests and alcohol-related accidents decreased.

News 13 requested data from 16 counties, and the trend was the same in almost every one.

The surprising statistics led us to investigate the reason behind the drop.

A DEVASTATING ACCIDENT

It's been one year since Michael Foley almost lost his life.

He said he was driving home from work when he was hit head on on Sweeten Creek Road.

Foley said he doesn't remember much about the wreck, except the pain that followed.

"Just the impact, that's all I remember, just the impact of being hit and that is it," said Foley.

Foley said, since that day, his life has been much different.

Foley said he was hit head-on by a driver traveling nearly twice the speed limit and who was three times over the legal alcohol limit.

Doctors didn't think he would survive his injuries, and, even after many surgeries and therapy, he's still recovering.

"You can never prepare yourself or your family for an incident that completely changes your life in an instant," said Foley.

But, he was happy to see what took place at the scene of his accident this month.

The Asheville Buncombe DWI Task Force held a check point for impaired drivers, and Foley was there to thank the officers.

"Joy, just seeing them trying to make a difference," said Foley.

DROP IN DWIs

According to the Asheville Buncombe DWI Task Force, the number of DWI arrests dropped by 25 percent last year in Buncombe County.

And in the city, the arrests dropped 26 percent.

News 13 gathered data from 16 counties in Western North Carolina, and in 13 of those, the number of DWI arrests went down from 2015 to 2016.

Alcohol-related traffic accidents are down in most counties, as well.

Click HERE for data from all counties.

Deputy Ronnie Davis is one of six on the task force that started in September of 2014.

Davis believes his team is making a difference. In fact, at the annual MADD banquet in Raleigh this year, Davis was named DWI enforcer of the year.

He made 226 DWI arrests in 2016.

But, he still gets calls like the one he received while our crew was riding along with him - a driver stopped in the middle of Interstate 240.

After a field sobriety test, the driver was arrested for driving under the influence.

Sgt. Ann Fowler is the supervisor of the task force. She said the good news is that scenes like that are happening less.

Fowler said, through education, check points and a sobriety court, they've helped cut down on the number of people driving impaired.

"Enforcement is not always the answer, and putting a Band-Aid on something is not always the answer. We wanted to go a step further. So, what we do is educate, and we also rehabilitate with our court system," said Fowler.

ONE REASON FOR THE TREND - RIDE SHARE SERVICES

Fowler, along with other members of local law enforcement, agree ride share services like Uber are helping cut down on the number of DWIs.

"It has made it a lot more accessible to the public, and it gives them better choices. We are a very friendly community when it comes to having alternative means of transportation so you don't have to drive," said Fowler.

Russell Badger is an Uber driver and usually gives close to 100 rides every weekend night. He said, often, the people he picks up have been drinking.

"There's also that sense of this is kind of a community service where we are taking people in no condition to drive and, hopefully, we're keeping them from getting a DUI or getting in an accident," said Badger.

Michael Black, the general manager of Uber in North Carolina, said the statistics are staggering. He said 88 percent of adults admit Uber has made it easier to avoid drinking and driving.

And in Asheville, Black said 44 percent of the Uber rides last month took place on weekend nights.

"At the end of the day, we feel like we do our job so that we provide this very reliable alternative to making that big mistake," said Black.

N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Matthew Wike said, while it's not the sole solution, ride sharing certainly helps.

"There is nothing but positives that come from any opportunity to keep a drinking driver off the roads, and Uber would certainly provide that opportunity," said Wike.

He studies the data often and said there are still concerns, though. Wike works in Haywood County, one of three counties where the number of alcohol-related crashes went up last year.

"What we're seeing in alcohol-related crash activity is a slightly upward trend," said Wike.

Foley just hopes the number of people driving impaired does down, so the number of victims drops, as well.

His hope? "That nobody has to go through what I went through, that people can be smart and call a friend, call Uber, call a cab, call your wife, they're not getting in the car and driving drunk," said Foley.

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