Are Rideshare Apps Saving Lives?

Are Rideshare Apps Saving Lives?
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Ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft have swiftly grown into a multi-billion dollar industry by offering convenient transportation services at the tap of a smartphone screen. Beyond just providing an alternative to traditional taxis, an increasing number of studies suggest these rideshare platforms may actually be providing a significant public safety benefit – reducing drunk driving rates and preventing alcohol-related traffic fatalities.

The data is still emerging, but several analyses from major universities have found correlations between the availability of rideshare services in certain cities and decreases in impaired driving crashes and roadway deaths, particularly among younger demographics most inclined to take advantage of the new mobility option. Researchers theorize that by expanding quick, affordable transportation alternatives, some individuals who previously may have driven drunk are now incentivized to instead request an Uber or Lyft ride to avoid endangering themselves or others.

Studies Point to Rideshare Safety Benefits

One of the most cited studies is a 2017 analysis from the University of Southern California and University of Oxford that examined traffic fatalities across the U.S. in relation to rideshare rollouts in different metropolitan markets. After controlling for external factors, the researchers found that the introduction of ridesharing services in a given area correlated with a significant 25-35% decrease in traffic fatalities among drivers under 30 years old.

While the study didn’t definitively determine causes for the reduced fatalities, the authors suggested “the ultricated introduction of rideshare stands to prevent the most alcohol-involved accidents among the relatively highest-risk population for fatal crashes of this type.” Essentially, the convenient and affordable rideshare options appear to be providing enough of an alternative incentive to dissuade drunk driving in this high-risk age demographic.

A follow-up study in 2020 by researchers at the University of Kansas and San Francisco took an even more granular approach, examining drunk driving fatality data down to the neighborhood level in relation to Uber’s intensity of service coverage. Their analysis found that for each additional 1% of a city’s coverage within the fastest range of Uber’s pickup times, overall vehicle crashes decreased by 0.59 incidents per 100,000 residents.

The Harvard Medical School likewise published a 2021 study confirming that cities with higher Uber density and faster ride availability showed lower rates of ambulance deployment for crashes related to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Uber itself released its own assessment that was peer-reviewed and published in a scientific journal. The analysis of data across hundreds of U.S. communities indicated a 62% average decrease in DUI-related crashes after the introduction of the rideshare service. Uber also touted additional public safety benefits of replacing around 37,000 drunk driving incidents each year.

However, the safety impact of ridesharing is not universally accepted as some experts caution that observed reductions in drunk driving fatalities could be influenced by external economic factors or other cultural shifts in attitudes towards impaired driving that merely coincided with the rise of services like Uber during the study periods examined. The affordability and accessibility of rideshare options may still pose barriers to maximizing public safety benefits in lower-income communities, where excessive drinking and driving remains most problematic.

Additionally, there are concerns about whether the widespread adoption of informal peer-to-peer ridesharing enabled through other mobile apps could undermine the safety controls and incentive structures of commercial rideshare companies like Uber that are actively campaigning to brand their services as a safe alternative to drunk driving. The potential for negligent operation and increased liability exposures with informal arrangements raises new risks that could potentially lead to more rideshare accidents.

If injured in a rideshare accident, victims may face convoluted liability and insurance issues in obtaining compensation, depending on the precise circumstances and whether the Uber or Lyft driver was officially working at the time. Having skilled legal representation is often crucial for protecting victims’ rights and securing fair settlements after a rideshare accident caused by an impaired or negligent driver.

Despite these caveats, proponents argue any transportation mode that feasibly separates drinking from driving should be considered a positive step towards mitigating one of the deadliest hazards on U.S. roadways. 

Major rideshare companies have doubled down on marketing their services as a way to prevent drunk driving by partnering with safety advocacy groups and even pitching controversial proposals to integrate ridesharing into court-ordered monitoring programs for DUI offenders. While questions remain over quantifying the precise safety impact, the emerging data and growing cultural embrace of ridesharing at least represents another tool for curbing alcohol-impaired roadway incidents.

As services like Uber and Lyft evolve through technological advancements like autonomous fleets that could further improve safety and affordability, measuring their influence on separating drinking from driving will surely remain an area of active research and public interest going forward. But early indications are that the rising popularity of ridesharing is turning a new corner in the ongoing battle against drunk driving and the preventable tragedies it causes on American roads.