Uber Reduces Drunk Driving Deaths
So what will be impact in the nation's heaviest-drinking state?
There’s an unexpected upside to the introduction of Uber into more and more U.S. cities, according to a study published earlier this year: the service helps reduce drunk driving fatalities.
The entry of Uber X — driving services offered by people using private vehicles — into a new city decreased drunk driving deaths by an average of 3.6 percent, according to the study, funded by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Uber and carried out by researchers at Temple University. The difference took about nine months to take effect, they found. No similar benefit was found for the entry of Uber Black, the luxury driver service offered by the same company.
Researchers examined about 12,500 collisions from 2009 to 2014 across 540 townships in the state of California, comparing DUI fatality rates before and after the introduction of the service. (Researchers used econometric models to control for factors like size of population and size of elderly population.)
The study concluded that would-be drunk drivers appear to be sensitive to price as well as the availability of driver services. In others words, Uber X makes it easier and cheaper to hire a driver, offering an alternative to drunk driving for a small but significant percentage of the population, the authors concluded. On the other hand, the availability of a more expensive but more accessible driver service than a traditional taxi — Uber Black — did not seem to impact drunk driving behavior.
There could hardly be a better state to test Uber’s impact than Wisconsin. As of 2008, this was the number one state for binge drinking, number one in the percent of residents who drink, and number one for driving under the influence of alcohol, as a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story found. A more recent study found Wisconsin is still the heaviest drinking state in the country. The result can be seen in alcohol-related deaths. As Bill Lueders has reported, there were 4,954 alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin in 2013, leading to 185 deaths and 2,660 injuries.
Story by Angie Schmitt with additional contributions from Urban Milwaukee. A version of this story originally ran on Streetsblog. Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.