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Why Uber Isn't Helping America's Drunk Driving Problem

As ever, there are pesky researchers around to sober up corporations who are peddling a narrative that may or may not be bullshit.
Photo via Flickr user David Long

Ever pat yourself on the back for taking an Uber instead of driving drunk? You should, because every year, there are an estimated 121 million episodes of drunk driving in the US and 10,000 ensuing fatalities. So, why not whip out your phone after a drinking binge and make sure you are not one of those grim statistics? It may cost more, but it's the responsible, intelligent thing to do.

But that also doesn't mean it's making any difference in the bigger fight against drinking and driving. Recent research published in the Journal of Epidemiology took a hard look at the supposedly positive impact that the app has had on DWIs across America—a seductive narrative, and one that certainly benefits Uber.


In fact, the company claims that it is having a "significant impact in driving down these heartbreaking statistics in cities around the world by providing people with a safe, reliable alternative to getting behind the wheel." But, as ever, there are pesky researchers around to sober up corporations who are peddling a narrative that may or may not be bullshit.

READ MORE: How Uber Is Changing the Way Drunk People Take Wine Tours

Titled "Uber and Metropolitan Traffic Fatalities in the United States," this recent research found that the app had no significant impact in the 100 most populated counties in the country, in terms of road deaths. Because Uber was launched in different markets at different times between 2005 and 2014, the Oxford and USC scientists were able to objectively measure the association between Uber availability and traffic fatalities for those years.

Ultimately, they weren't able to establish any meaningful relation between the two, even during peak drinking seasons. "We found that the deployment of Uber services in a given metropolitan county had no association with the number of subsequent traffic fatalities, whether measured in aggregate or specific to drunk-driving fatalities or fatalities during weekends and holidays," the authors of the study concluded.

The problem, according to the team of researchers, is that if you're so drunk that you can't drive, then odds are you won't be making super rational decisions about driving, either.

"If drunk drivers were rational, then in theory a service offering to make alternative forms of transport easier should bring down rates of drink-driving and road traffic deaths," David Kirk, one of the authors of the study, told The Times. "However, the average inebriated individual contemplating driving may not be sufficiently rational to substitute drinking and driving for a presumably safer Uber ride."

Other issues include the fact that the actual amount of people who use the app isn't enough to make a dent in 10,000 drunk driving deaths. Not to mention the harsh reality that Uber costs money and drunk people have already spent a lot of money to get drunk, which makes paying for a ride from a stranger a lot less attractive.