Each day, nearly 30 deaths are attributed to alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents in the United States. The issue is an enormous public health problem, putting both drivers and innocent bystanders at risk. However, while drunk driving regulations in many states have been effective in lowering incidences of drunk driving deaths, other factors in preventing drunk driving, such as the emerging ridesharing economy, are worth investigating.
Factors which result in people getting behind the wheel while drunk have been a persistent puzzle for social scientists, both in terms of why it is done and how to prevent it. After I caught a ride via Uber X— a ride hailing service—one night after having a couple of drinks at a wedding, I wondered whether the rising popularity of Uber and other ride sharing services has caused more people to stay off the road.
In a recent study, Sunil Wattal—another researcher at Temple University’s Fox School of Business—and I built on prior work which had speculated that the link between Uber and lowered rates of drunk driving existed. We then used data from the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Reporting System to not only confirm this link, but investigate by what mechanism the effect accrues. In California, there was a significant drop in the rate of deaths between 2009 and 2014 after the introduction of Uber X in these markets, however there was a limited connection with Uber Black. Comparing the data with other California cities with similar trends, we concluded that this drop is likely a result of Uber’s presence.
We argue that Uber’s smart phone app platform creates an accessible and affordable alternative for those who choose to drink, and when this alternative exists, fewer alcohol-related deaths occur. Further, this link was not as clear in high demand periods such as holidays and weekends, when Uber and similar services often increase fares, indicating that cost may be an important decision-making factor.
As new business models like Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing platforms emerge and change our daily lives; hard data are required to shape policies that uncover positive benefits, like preventing and reducing drunk driving, and incorporate these emerging firms into the established environment.
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