Ride sharing reduced US drunk driving deaths by 6%

Is Ubering the best way to end drunk driving?
Is Ubering the best way to end drunk driving?
Image: REUTERS/Rick Wilking
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About one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the US involve drunk drivers. Ride-sharing can play an important role in reducing these deaths, according to a new study.

Researchers Michael Anderson and Lucas Davis, both from the University of California, Berkeley, found ride-sharing reduces US alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 6.1% and total US traffic fatalities by 4%. They published their findings as a working paper, which means it hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.

Anderson and Davis analyzed traffic fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which includes information on geography, roadway type, date and time, suspected involvement of alcohol, and driver statistics, from 2001 to 2016. They also used proprietary ride sharing activity from Uber from 2012 through 2017 (according to the researchers, Uber was by far the largest ride sharing service in the years they examined; they did not use Lyft data in the study).

Saving lives one Uber ride at a time

The researchers’ projections found using Uber saved 214 lives from alcohol-related fatalities and 494 total lives in 2019. (One limitation is that the NHTSA data may undercount the true number of alcohol-involved crashes because police may not always detect or report alcohol involvement.) The researchers say ride sharing activity could have stronger effects during the night than day in avoiding fatalities.

The researchers also calculated the economic benefit of saved lives using the economic concept of the value of a statistical life (VSL), which measures what society is willing to pay to save a life (the US Department of Transportation uses a VSL of $10.9 million). Ride sharing produced VSL savings range from $2.3 billion (for 214 lives saved) to $5.4 billion (for 494 lives saved).

This is not the first paper to explore the relationship between ride sharing and traffic fatalities, but others have had mixed results using public data. As the researchers noted, one study found the relationship between the two can be negative or positive; another focused on city-level rollout of Uber and Lyft and concluded that ride sharing increased traffic deaths.