Researchers Find Uber Use Leads to a Decrease in DUI Deaths

A study of drunk-driving deaths shows Uber has a positive effect, provided the price is right.

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By Ray Hennessey

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Uber may be saving your life.

Researchers at Temple University ran an analysis and found that use of car-sharing services, and Uber in particular, led to a decrease in the number of homicides from drunken driving.

Looking at data from 2009 through 2014 in California, Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of the Fox School of Business said they found that Uber's entry into a market reduced DUI deaths, depending on the service.

Use of Uber X led to between a 3.6 percent and a 5.6 percent reduction in alcohol-related driving homicides. By noting that there are 13,000 DUI-related deaths a year, the researchers figure complete implementation of Uber X nationwide would save 500 lives annually and the economy $1.3 billion in losses. However, as the cost and complexity of service rose, Greenwood and Wattal found no drop.

Uber itself has touted its own service as a way to ensure you have a car after an evening of being overserved by your bartender. In fact, earlier this year it set up a kiosk with a breathalyzer in bar-heavy Toronto as a marketing gimmick.

The car-sharing industry has produced a number of studies, too, saying these services reduce DUIs, but Greenwood and Wattal seem to be the first to run independent data to confirm it.

The taxi industry does not fare well in the Temple research, with moves by some cities to limit Uber's entry by the more heavily regulated cab industry facing particular criticism. Those limits, the researchers note, are designed to "manufacture excess demand" and "the absence of a sufficient number of taxis may result in citizens operating motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol." In other words, protecting the taxi industry by limiting competition means more drunk drivers are on the road.

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What's more, the researchers found that there was no evidence that non-alcohol-related auto accidents rose in areas where Uber operated. That seems to support those who fought New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to limit the number of Uber drivers on the city, citing safety. De Blasio backed off on that proposal last month.

Instead, the research suggests cities, rather than tightening regulations for new car services, might want to think about loosening more onerous regulations to help taxi companies compete.

"Although the results of this investigation cannot speak to public welfare losses which may result from improper vehicle handling or safety on the part of consumers (although our results do not indicate an effect on sober deaths)," the authors wrote, "they provide important insights into the potential benefits of the sharing economy and inform licensed livery services of the necessary steps which need to be taken to compete with firms like Uber."

Finally, the researchers propose a little business proposition: Restaurants and bars should start signing up with Uber and other ride-sharing companies.

"To the extent that vendors can be held culpable for overserving patrons, and to the degree that return business is vital for these firms, integration of Uber during the dining or event experience offers significant benefit for all parties," Greenwood and Wattal wrote. "In particular, the vendor is able to eschew a significant liability risk, while still ensuring that her patrons do not endanger themselves. Moreover, as chauffeured service is often seen as a sign of prestige, there may be additional social externalities which accrue to both patron and vendor."

Related: Apple's Tim Cook Made a Rookie Mistake and Might Face SEC Sanctions

Ray Hennessey

Former Editorial Director at Entrepreneur Media

Ray Hennessey is the former editorial director of Entrepreneur.

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