Screen shot of smartphone map used by an Uber driver.

Ride services like Uber could reduce drunk driving fatalities. Image courtesy of Greenwood and Wattal study.

Low-cost, on-demand ride services could cut drunk driving fatalities by 3.6% to 5.6%, according to a new study. The independent study, “Show Me the Way to Go Home: An Empirical Investigation of Ride Sharing and Alcohol Related Motor Vehicle Homicide,” was conducted by researchers Brad N. Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, as Tracey Lien reports for the Los Angeles Times. They will be presenting it at The Academy of Management’s annual meeting in Vancouver next week, according to news reports.

The key to the study is the low cost of the on-demand ride services, provided by such companies as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, Lien writes. “UberX is the company’s personalized service in which drivers provide transportation in their private vehicles at prices 20% to 30% below those of traditional cabs,” according to a press release about the study. Similar services that are more expensive, such as Uber Black, did not have as high a percentage of reduction in alcohol-related driving fatalities, except in cities with populations of more than 250,000, writes Charlotte Lytton for The Daily Beast. Uber Black costs 20-30% more than taxicabs, the study notes.

To conduct the study, Greenwood and Wattal looked at the data on alcohol-induced vehicle deaths from January 2009 to September 2014 in 540 California towns, Lien writes. Besides comparing cities that had the low-cost, on-demand transportation services with those that did not, the researchers also evaluated the size of each city’s population, its median income, how many college graduates live there, how many residents are over 65, how many are poor, and how many people without its county work in law enforcement, Lien writes.

Greenwood said the study is only the beginning, as it only focused on California, Lien writes. There are more than 1,000 deaths in that state annually as a result of alcohol-related car accidents, the study says. In addition, Greenwood said, additional information needs to be factored in, such as how many drivers each service has in each market — something that most car-hailing services do not reveal, Lien writes.

The press release about the study says:

The factor of price in reducing deaths was found not only in analysis of this data overall but in probing the effect of surge pricing, the increase in price Uber imposes at times when the number of its drivers on the road does not suffice to meet demand. Analyzing rates of alcohol-related vehicular fatalities on weekend nights and major holidays – that is, times when surge pricing is most likely — the professors find no significant change in death rates following the introduction of UberX.

Lytton writes that if the study’s findings are found to apply nationally, the low-cost, on-demand ride services could save as estimated 500 lives annually. In addition, the study says there could be a reduction in the $37 billion dollar cost of such fatal accidents per year (including such things as medical care for people injured and not killed, and prosecution and incarceration for the drunk drivers), Lytton writes.

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