drunk driving Colorado

A new study finds that Uber, the ride-sharing service, has not reduced drunk driving.

The study, by researchers at Oxford University and the University of Southern California, was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study compared United States county-level data from before and  after Uber and other similar companies came to market, Fredrick Kunkle wrote for The Washington Post. It concluded that ride-sharing did not change the rate of drinking-related fatalities, or fatalities on holidays and weekends.

Dr. David Kirk, a study co-author, told Kunkle:

The takeaway for me is that there’s still tons of room for improvement when it comes to reducing drunk driving fatalities.

Uber Replacing Cabs?

One reason for the results could be that ride-sharing services have simply replaced cabs for people who had one too many. Another theory is that there are still not enough ride-share drivers available throughout the U.S. to prevent car accidents. (A Wired article by Davey Alba earlier this year said Uber has recruited more than 50,000 U.S. veterans as drivers via its UberMILITARY initiative.)

In an article on Phys.org, study co-author Dr. Noli Brazil of USC said if Uber-driven trips made up a greater share of all trips, there could well be a drop in road deaths.

Dr. Kirk, Associate Professor of Sociology and Fellow of Nuffield College at the University of Oxford, offered Phys.org other possible reasons for the study’s findings:

If drunk drivers were rational, then in theory a service offering to make alternative forms of transport easier should bring down rates of drunk driving and road traffic deaths. However, the average inebriated individual contemplating driving may not be sufficiently rational to substitute drinking and driving for a presumably safer Uber ride.

He also ventured that drunk drivers in the U.S. might be unwilling to pay for a ride when the drunk driving arrest rate in the U.S. is actually quite low.

NHTSA Traffic Fatality Data

The researchers examined National Highway Traffic Safety Administration monthly traffic fatality data for 2005 to 2014 for the 100 most densely populated metropolitan areas. They controlled for factors such as state beer taxes, state-level traffic seat-belt laws, data on driver’s licenses revoked for drunk driving, and laws on mobile phone use in cars.

Last year, the Colorado Department of Transportation ran a promotion with Uber and Alcohoot to encourage people who planned to drink during the Labor Day holiday to hail Uber for rides home. People in LoDo (lower downtown Denver), and those attending a Rockies game were invited to try out the Alcohol smartphone breathalyzer and have a chance to win one. They were also given the chance to win free and discounted Uber rides home.

Image by Richard Nelson/123RF.