Studies Suggest Ride-Sharing Reduces Drunk Driving, But Causation is Hard to Prove

Despite a recent wave of bad press, ride-hailing platform Uber has managed to retain its good reputation, especially in terms of reducing drunk driving accidents. But while a number of studies have suggested cities that have Uber have decreased alcohol-related crashes, researchers may need to be more careful when determining causation from correlation.

While many Americans are staunchly against drunk driving, every two minutes, someone is injured in a drunk driving crash. It would only make sense that if intoxicated individuals have easier access to a safe ride home, they’d be more inclined to take it instead of getting behind the wheel. One recent independent study found that in four of New York City’s boroughs, alcohol-related car crashes reduced by 25 to 35% since Uber became available for residents in 2011. That amounts to around 40 fewer collisions in those boroughs every month.

Another report from Temple University in 2015 found that Uber’s presence correlated with a reduction of motor vehicle-related homicides in the state of California. A study found that in California locations where Uber was made available, the number of alcohol-related accidents decreased by 6.5% every month among younger drivers. And a separate report from West Carolina University suggests that Uber’s availability led to fatal accident rate reductions nationwide.

Uber’s own 2015 report stated that Uber ridership spiked during times when drunk driving accidents are most likely to happen. For instance, Independence Day weekend is considered to be the deadliest time of year: on average, 400 accident fatalities occur during that period, and 41% of all accident fatalities are caused by drivers with BAC levels above .08.

However, that doesn’t mean that Uber is responsible for reducing drunk driving accidents.

After studying 100 highly populated counties across the U.S., one report found no definitive correlation between Uber’s rollouts in those areas and the number of fatal traffic accidents. Experts stress that there are additional variables to consider, and while Uber’s availability may be a contributing factor, correlation does not equate to causation.

When analyzing these contributing factors, researchers also have to look at time frames, state laws, relative access to public transportation, and other trends. There’s ample opportunity to cherry-pick data, according to experts.

Jessica Lynn Peck, author of the New York-based study, said to the New York Times, “I think anyone who does statistics for a living is going to be really careful about saying they are sure. Because we are scientists, and we are never sure.”

Still, researchers may eventually be able to definitively say that Uber helps reduce these crashes.

“We need more evidence, but the trend seems to be pointing toward ride-sharing reducing drunk driving incidents,” said Peck.

But Noli Brazi, who co-authored the report that found no correlation, stressed that even though Uber is eager to take ownership of the trend, it’s simply too soon to tell.

“The company made this claim that it made cities safer. We felt like there’s not enough people using Uber just yet to make that kind of claim.”

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