Uber May Not Actually Reduce Drunk Driving Deaths

A new study challenges the idea that ride shares are saving lives

A new study has stolen our feeling of smug self-satisfaction every time we decide to leave the car at home during a night of imbibing. Ride share services like Uber and Lyft have made no dent in the number of drunk driving deaths, according to researchers from USC and Oxford, who studied the 100 most populated areas that have allowed companies like Uber and Lyft to operate, from 2005 to 2014.

The recent findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and reported on NPR, contradict two previous studies and anecdotal evidence compiled by Uber. The latest findings are possibly the most weighty as it took into account outside factors like texting and marijuana laws.

Considering the ubiquity of Uber and Lyft in L.A.—and how expensive it can be to get one at closing time—how can the research be right? Study authors think the average inebriated person “may not be sufficiently rational to substitute drinking and driving for a presumably safer Uber ride.” Other party people may be more amenable to risk-taking, which could include driving drunk. Avoiding the relatively low risk of getting pulled over may be outweighed by saving $20 on the ride.

Whatever the reason, the findings are not exactly what companies like Uber and Lyft want to hear. Uber has cited safety as a main benefit of its service, highlighting it as an alternative to a DUI. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially since 80 percent of riders told them their service has helped them avoid drinking and driving.

Whether there’s hard evidence yet or not, we never want to go back to the L.A. days when drunk drivers, infrequent buses and trains, and highly unreliable taxis were the only way to get home after a night on the town.