UberX Reduces Drunk Driving Deaths, Study Shows

The Temple University analysis seems to backs up the company's claim that it's made places like Philly safer.



Professors from Temple University’s Fox School of Business have found that the rollout of the ride-sharing service UberX lowered DUI deaths by 3.6 percent to 5.6 percent in California cities.

“But that reduction largely disappeared when surge prices were likely in effect,” reported PlanPhilly’s Jim Saksa, “and never really materialized following the introduction of Uber Black, the more expensive, premium version of the service (although there was some reduction in larger cities).”

Why not? “Drunks are cheap, lazy bastards who are marginally less likely to do something stupid when you provide more easy and inexpensive transportation options,” Saksa wrote. Yeah, that makes sense.

UberX launched in Philadelphia in October 2014, and has provided a whopping 1 million rides in the city as of April. The study by the Fox School’s Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal seemingly backs up the company’s long-held claim that it has helped to make places such as Philly safer.

Uber has made that argument a few different ways: First, the company says that most of UberX’s ride requests take place during the same time that drunk driving deaths are most prevalent. And, as PhillyMag.com’s Victor Fiorillo reported earlier this year, Uber says “more than half of the UberX trips late at nights on weekends originated in bar-heavy areas like Old City, Northern Liberties and Rittenhouse Square.” Uber also says that DUI arrests dropped by more than 11 percent after Uber Black was introduced in Philadelphia back in 2012.

That last claim should be taken with a heaping grain of salt, though. It appears to originate from a Pittsburgh computer scientist’s discovery that there was a correlation (but not necessarily causality) between the introduction of Uber X, Uber Black and SideCar in Philadelphia and a drop in DUI arrests.

The Temple professors decided to take a closer look at the impact of ride-sharing services on DUI deaths after Greenwood used Uber following a night of drinking. “I literally emailed myself that night: ‘Uber. Drunk Driving,'” he said.

Here’s why their analysis is much better than the computer scientist’s, as explained by PlanPhilly:

Because the services were introduced in different cities at different times, it allowed the professors to control for other factors, like general reductions in driving or safer-designed cars, that might also explain the effect. Given that most other factors would affect the DUI death trends broadly, the method allows for the inference of a casual relationship, not unlike how lab experiments work.

These findings are important because rigorous research has been hard to come by in the debate on ride-sharing apps. There is a lot more to consider while discussing the issue — such as whether the company is exploiting drivers and if it is fundamentally in violation of the law — but it’s still a plus this analysis was done.