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Are Ridesharing Services Reducing Drunk Driving Accidents?


Although most people tend to drive responsibly, too many motorists choose to drive while under the influence of alcohol.  Alcohol impacts different people in different ways.  Obvious signs of impairment from alcohol include slurring words, speaking incoherently, and difficulty with coordination. Yet, a person can be too drunk to drive without showing these obvious symptoms. Any amount of driver impairment increases the risk of a car accident.

Driving under the influence, referred to as either (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI), is a violation of law in every state.  While states vary in the particulars, all states consider driving with a blood alcohol content per unit of blood (BAC) of 0.08 or more to be a DWI/DUI violation. 

Even someone who has had only a drink or two with dinner may be too impaired to drive safely.  One source states that a man or woman weighing up to 160 pounds will likely come close to or exceed a BAC of 0.08 after having just two drinks.  Although guidelines can help inform a driver, they are not exact.  One estimator of whether a person has ingested enough alcohol to exceed the legal limit is available here: Blood Alcohol Calculator: How Long Should I Wait to Drive After Drinking? |

Why is Drunk Driving So Dangerous?

Someone speaking clearly with no overt signs of drunkenness can still be too drunk to drive. This can prevent others from feeling the need to intervene before allowing a friend or loved one who has had some alcohol to drive themselves home. 

A serious problem with alcohol is that it impairs judgment.  Sometimes it causes people who have been drinking to misjudge their capacity to drive safely. Driving under the influence of alcohol can impair depth perception, decision-making, and reaction time.  The result can be swerving in and out of lanes; missing turn and stop signals; and/or driving the wrong speed limit, either too slow or too fast.

What is Being Done to Enforce Drunk Driving Laws?

Drunk driving laws are enforced by police officers who patrol roadways and will pull over drivers who are driving erratically or are otherwise suspected of violating drunk driving laws.  Police also set up check points at peak times during the year, such as on New Year’s Eve, to fend off drunk driving accidents.  A police officer witnessing erratic driving will pull the vehicle over to assess the condition of the driver.  This is done using sobriety tests that examine speaking patterns and coordination to evaluate impairment.  A driver may also be asked to take a breathalyzer test to determine their BAC. 

DUI/DWI laws heavily penalize repeat offenders to deter habitual drunk driving.  In addition to increasing the cost of fines for repeat violations, states can impose progressively higher fines as BAC is elevated.  In addition, violator can be required to install an ignition control system in their vehicle.  It tests a driver’s BAC and will allow the engine to start only if the BAC is within a pre-set acceptable level.  States may limit and/or revoke driving privileges of those convicted of DWI/DUI.  These restrictions can range from limiting the time to drive only during the day to totally revoking privileges for a time. 

What is Being Done to Reduce Drunk Driving?

Efforts by state and local governments, police, and advocacy groups have been ongoing to educate the public about the dangers of drunk driving to reduce the incidence of drunk driving.  Many educational campaigns encourage use of a designated driver or recommend use of mass transit or a rideshare service to get home.  Despite extensive drunk driving awareness campaigns and regular police surveillance, there are still too many drunk driving accidents.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has studied drunk driving data and found that on average, 28 people die each day in drunk driving accidents. 

Do Ridesharing Services Reduce the Incidence of Drunk Driving?

In 2012, about 45,337 drivers were involved in a fatal accident, with 9,678 drivers found to have had a BAC over 0.08 percent, which was about 21 percent of the time.  About one-third of the impaired drivers were aged 21 to 24.  Five years later, 52,274 drivers were in fatal car crashes, with 10,344 having been legally DUI.  This time, about 20 percent were found to have been impaired. In the 21 to 24 age category, this represented 20 percent of those fatalities.

Uber and Lyft are ridesharing companies that launched in 2012 in San Francisco.  The platforms soon spread to other major U.S. cities and elsewhere.  People use an app on their cell phone to request a ride, and a driver for the ridesharing company is dispatched to the location making the request. The app shows expected arrival times, which are often quite quick, as well as progress along the route and cost. 

The raw data seemed to point to a minor reduction in overall alcohol-related fatal accidents potentially being the result of introduction of the rideshare options.  A number of studies of data have been conducted on the use of rideshares and frequency of DWI/DUI accidents to better understand their impact on the frequency of drunk driving.

One study found that four boroughs in New York City experienced a 10 percent decrease of alcohol-related car accidents since introduction of Uber services compared with other locations where they did not exist.  It might seem obvious to consider the improvement to be due to introduction of rideshare services.  However, further studies have drawn more nuanced findings.

A peer-reviewed article published more recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology examined the data for major cities.  The study was performed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelmen School of Medicine. Although the analysis of the data was not decisive, it did appear that alcohol-involved accidents were reduced by up to 60 percent since the ridesharing services were available.

The Perelman School of Medicine study found there were significant variations from city to city.  Some cities showed little or no improvement after introduction of ridesharing services. Surprisingly, it found no clear correlation between the availability of ridesharing companies and the number of fatal car accidents.

The researchers surmised that the availability and use of public transportation such as trains and buses could be impacting the outcome of any correlation between drunk driving and the occurrence of fatal car accidents.  The researchers parsed the data by city, suspecting that in cities where people were already used to travel using public transportation, there may not be as great a decline in DWI/DUI accidents when Uber is available because people could choose to use public transportation rather than driving to return home after drinking.  The study concluded that in cities where travelers are already familiar with and using public transportation, a noticeable decline in fatal alcohol-related accidents from use of ridesharing services will not reduce the incidence of drunk driving accidents and fatalities as rapidly as in places where public transportation is not heavily relied on. 

Can Technology be Expected to Reduce the Incidence of Drunk Driving Accidents?

Although the data on ridesharing is encouraging, it does not yet appear that ridesharing services will prevent many drunk driving accidents and injuries.  However, better acceptance of the services and greater awareness of the risks of drunk driving can serve to improve outcomes.  Many auto manufacturers are investing in various versions of automated vehicles in which the controls are either operated or enhanced by the vehicle rather than the driver.  There is hope that over time, these automated functions combined with other efforts will work to reduce the number and severity of accidents resulting from drunk driving.

Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, are Ready to Assist Accident Victims

If you or someone you know has been seriously injured in a drunk driving or other car accident, contact the Philadelphia car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC.  Successful cases can result in compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses.  Initial offers from insurance companies to settle cases may be too low to fully compensate for losses.  Call us today at 215-569-8488 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.