Is Raising Ride-Sharing Awareness Fighting Drunk Driving?


    Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft offer many benefits from easy-to-use apps that bring cars to your door, seamless payment systems, and updated travel info. An interesting angle some services claim is contributing to a reduction in drunk-driving.

    The idea seems intuitive and obvious: call a car if you’ve had too much to drink, and everyone can get home safely. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has partnered with Uber to raise awareness for the service among the drinking crowd.

    The question for many, however, is whether ridesharing actually does reduce the occurence of drunk driving. Driving while intoxicated can be costly and dangerous, potentially ending in severe auto accident injuries or worse.

    If ridesharing services were able to stop people from getting behind the wheel while impaired, everyone who shares the road would benefit.
    Several studies have examined the issue with intriguing, but mixed results. Most recently, a group at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published the results of their review of several US cities.

    Ridesharing Studies Remain Inconclusive
    The researchers focused on Uber specifically. To determine the effects of ridesharing on drunk driving, the study reviewed data from select cities where Uber was introduced for a period of time, suspended operations, then resumed service. The cities included San Antonio, TX, Reno and Las Vegas, NV, and Portland, OR.

    The results were mixed. In San Antonio, drunk-driving-related accidents dropped 40% when Uber service resumed after a 4-month pause while Portland saw a 62% fall in alcohol-related accidents. Reno, on the other hand, saw no significant change after a 10-month hiatus for the service. Las Vegas data was not sufficiently available.

    A similar study published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology found no significant correlation between ridesharing services and reductions in drunk driving. That study attempted to control for several variables that could have an impact, including beer taxes, whether or not marijuana was decriminalized, days of the week crashes most often occur, and more.

    Yet another study from 2011 run by the City University of New York (CUNY) estimated that the introduction of Uber in New York City resulted in a 25-35% drop in alcohol-related crashes.

    Digging Deeper Into the Data
    Each of the studies has approached the issue with different analytic procedures. According to Christopher Morrison, the lead author of the UPenn study, “The key message to come out of the paper is that the relationships will differ from city to city.”

    Controlling for variables becomes problematic on several levels. Areas that may affect the data include level of police enforcement in a locality or the ease and availability of other modes of transportation. Geography and street density might also come into play, which can drive up the cost of a ridesharing trip and disincentivize potential users.

    Unclear Results Are Not Necessarily Bad News
    With over a third of all traffic deaths attributable to alcohol, any initiative that can reduce drunk driving is desirable. At worst, ridesharing services might have no impact on alcohol-related crashes, but more research is needed to properly define their actual effects.

    As cities across the US continue to raise public awareness of the ridesharing options, the public might come to view them in the same light as effective designated driver campaigns.


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