Can Rideshares Tackle Drunk Driving?
Americans have become better at reducing drunk driving and alcohol-related car accidents. Through awareness programs and tough new laws, the percentage of accidents caused by drunk driving has plunged from over 60% in the 1970s to around 37% today.
While encouraging, this very much avoidable problem persists. These days, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are being hailed as the newest potential factors in reducing this number.
Uber, in particular, lays claim to reducing drunk driving. Conceptually, hailing a ridesharing service after a night out drinking should have a similar impact to selecting a designated driver. In fact, for the past three years Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has partnered with Uber in various campaigns as another avenue for raising awareness and reducing drunk driving accidents.
New Drunk Driving Study Produced Mixed Results
Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania decided to take a closer look. In their recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the team examined whether a correlation exists between the presence of the ridesharing service Uber and the number of alcohol-related crashes.
They used an interrupted time series approach to evaluate the data, focusing on U.S. cities where Uber was available, interrupted or stopped for a period of time, then resumed. The question of interest was whether increased during the interruption period, then decreased once Uber was reintroduced.
The team, led by senior author Douglas Wiebe, associate professor of epidemiology in Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics, focused on four cities: San Antonio, TX, Reno and Las Vegas, NV, and Portland, OR. Results were decidedly mixed, but also presented some intriguing new avenues to explore for research.
The strongest correlations appeared in San Antonio and Portland, where alcohol-related accidents fell 40% and 62%, respectively, once Uber resumed service. In Reno, no significant change occurred. The data collected in Las Vegas was incomplete.
Another recent study, which looked at urban statistics nationwide, found no correlation between the presence of Uber and a reduction of crashes. Yet a different study from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center did find an estimated 25% to 35% reduction in traffic accidents in New York with the introduction of Uber.
More Questions Raised
The varied results reflect a need for more research and clarity. According to Wiebe, “The observed variability may be due to the different conditions within these cities.”
A number of factors could be affecting the results, indicating that the impact of ridesharing might vary due to localized conditions. Cities differ in their available modes of transportation, the costs associated with using them, and the ease of use.
Geography might also come into play, with density and distance influencing a ridesharing decision. Another interesting side-effect might come from the presence of other ridesharing services, as most of these studies focused on Uber.
Mixed Results May Not Be So Bad
With drunk driving involved in a third of all traffic deaths, safety and responsible drinking remain top priorities for cities and towns alike. While current studies are showing mixed results, the bright side is that ridesharing programs like Uber do not contribute to drunk driving.
At the end of the day, proof of a positive impact on drunk driving may be a boon for ridesharing service promotion and advertising. The bigger advantage, however, will mean fewer related deaths and injuries. Even if it’s just a few incidents prevented, everyone benefits.