Ridesharing companies provide many benefits to both passengers and drivers that are often cited, but one of the lesser celebrated benefits is the reduction on drunk driving as measured by DUI arrests.
Austin, TX drove ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft out of operation from their normally tech-friendly city. As a reminder there are less than a thousand cabs to serve a city of over a million residents which swells even bigger every year during the SXSW conference. Riders are so desperate to get around, as a tech blog reports, they have recreated an Uber/Lyft-like platform via a Facebook group where drivers can post their location and pick up riders in exchange for cash. This seems to be a far more dangerous proposition than the cashless transactions that ridesharing apps afford.
There’s also another safety angle to be concerned about. The Austin police have released new data that finds driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests have spiked 7.5 percent since ridesharing left. According to the Austin Police Department, there were 359 DWI arrests from May 9 to May 31 of 2016. May 9th was the day that Uber and Lyft ended service. Last year, during the same time period, there were 334 arrests.
Ridesharing provides a safe alternative for drunk passengers to get home instead of driving. The absence of ridesharing is signaling that intoxicated drivers may be getting back behind the wheel. This doesn’t mean that Uber and Lyft leaving Austin explains the entire increase, but other research does support the theory.
Research earlier this year explored the impact of ridesharing on alcohol-related fatal crashes, night-time fatal crashes, and vehicular fatalities, as well as crime. After looking at 150 cities, researchers found that fatal accident rates generally decline after the introduction of Uber. Specifically, it led to 6 percent decline in the fatal accident rate, an 18-percent decline in fatal night-time crashes, and for each additional year of operation, Uber’s continued presence is associated with a 16.6 percent decline in vehicular fatalities.
As for crime, DUIs are 15 to 62 percent lower after the entry of Uber. After Uber enters an area, the average annual rate of decline is 51.3 percent per year for DUIs. In addition, there’s an increase in arrest rates for motor vehicles.
Even local police chiefs claim that ridesharing help in their fight:
Among those supporting Uber and Lyft: Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who issued a statement this week urging the council not to adopt any “onerous regulations” that would imperil the companies, which he credited with helping reduce drunken driving arrests by providing readily available rides. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, testifying to the council Thursday, said that fingerprint-based checks are valuable, but that his greatest fear is losing the TNC choice for inebriated people who might have wrecks or fall victims to assaults.
“The worst thing that could happen would be to lose 10,000 options,” Acevedo said.
These are not just numbers represent lives that could be lost because of drunk driving. One family who lost a loved one to drunk driving has made it a personal mission to drive for Uber to ensure that no one else experiences their pain, but now their mission has been halted as a local station reports:
"It's an everyday pain that you live with," said Deborah Tatum.
Tatum wishes for one more day with her son Greg…
He was 20 years old when a friend drove drunk and killed Greg and another young person. "When Greg was killed, we made it our mission as a family," said Tatum.
Greg's brother started driving for Uber. "When Brian had the chance to drive for Uber that was his goal. To take as many drunks off the road to save the families from going through what we're going through," said Tatum.
Tatum would like to see Uber and Lyft return because they made it cheap and easy for drunk drivers to get home safely. "Nobody wants that phone call. No one wants a knock on the door that says you're loved one has died from something that can be prevented," said Tatum.
Ridesharing doesn’t just deliver a new means of getting people home safely after a night out, but it augments the efforts of the police in fight drunk driving, which is why lawmakers and citizens shouldn’t be so quick to eliminate ridesharing.