Can Uber save lives?


It makes sense. Get drunken people out from behind the wheel and into cars piloted by sober drivers, and fewer people will be killed or injured in drunken driving collisions.

A new, independent study indicates that’s just what has happened since Uber started six years ago. It has made hiring a driver as easy as tapping on your smartphone. Similar ride-booking firms include Lyft and Sidecar. The study is by Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of the Department of Management Information Systems at Temple University in Philadelphia. They found that, since “the entry of Uber into markets in California between 2009 and 2013, findings suggest a significant drop in the rate of (vehicular) homicides during that time.”

The study used data from the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Report System. The data include “blood alcohol content of the driver (i.e. if alcohol was involved), the number of parties involved, weather, speed and other environmental factors.”

The Orange County Register says California data was chosen because Uber, headquartered in San Francisco, has operated there the longest, and the CHP data was excellent. The results: When Uber X, the basic service, launches in a city, alcohol-related vehicle deaths drop by an average of 3.6 percent. A major reason is because Uber X “provides significant cost savings over traditional taxi cabs.” However, there was no reduction in deaths with Uber Black, the company’s luxury service, which costs more and provides a professional “livery service” similar to that of limousine drivers.

So basically what happened is that Uber’s entrepreneurs, much like Amazon or Apple, created a new industry niche that did something cheaper than older competitors. In Uber’s case, lives actually were saved because the lower prices and easy smartphone interface encouraged tipsy people to shun their cars and hire a ride home.

The Temple University study should answer critics who contend that, because Uber is regulated less than taxis, it’s less safe. Of course, as with cabs or any service, abuses have occurred. But from now on, those seeking to thwart Uber’s expansion should be asked how many drunken-driving deaths and injuries justify halting progress.


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