Uber, the world’s largest rideshare service by far, reached its 5 billionth trip (yes, you read that right) in May of 2017. Not bad, considering the company started less than ten years ago.
But with so many people hailing a ride using their smartphones, we have to wonder, how have rideshare services like Uber impacted safety on US roads, particularly where it concerns our nation’s DUI rates?
While Uber is still a private company and, therefore, isn’t required to share much of its proprietary data, we’ve done some research to see if we could find any connection between the company’s blazing growth worldwide and the amount of alcohol or drug-impaired driving happening here in America. In particular, we’ve looked at how DUI rates have changed in the US during the years that Uber experienced its greatest growth relative to the nation’s population. We’ve also looked at how Uber’s growth compares to the DUI rates in five major US cities and the habits of rideshare passengers in general.
Read on to learn more about what we found.
Uber’s total number of trips worldwide has risen at an exponential rate since 2012. At the same time, the national DUI fatality rate in the US has remained fairly consistent. In fact, it may even be showing a slightly downward trend. And perhaps most interesting of all, these results are showing in spite of a steadily increasing US population.
Based on this data, it may be the case that the popularity of Uber and other rideshare services are indeed having an affect on DUI rates in the US, but to paint a more complete picture, we dug a little deeper. If we look at the DUI rates in five major metropolitan areas in the US during the same timeframe, the results appear a little more mixed.
For example, while DUIs appear to be on a slightly downward slope in Chicago and Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington DC seem to be experiencing a slow uptick in DUIs. And Nashville, which has the highest DUI rates of the five cities we researched, has been fluctuating a lot in recent years, with rates both above and below the nation’s overall rates.
General Rideshare Habits
There are many factors that could explain how rideshare services impact DUI rates. This includes the reasons why people hail an Uber or other rideshare service in the first place.
Earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted a study* in which they discovered the following about how people use rideshare services:
- People use rideshare services the most on Friday and Saturday evenings, between 7 p.m. and midnight
- Most rideshare trips are short, between two and four miles
- Rideshare services are typically used on an occasional basis, as opposed to on a routine basis (e.g., for commuting to and from work)
- Rideshare services are used by people from virtually all communities and income levels
- Rideshare services are associated with decreases in vehicle ownership and single-occupancy vehicle trips
Based on our main findings, along with the above summary of the general habits of people who use rideshare services, the data seems to suggest (emphasis on “seem”) that many rideshare customers are opting to hail a ride home after an evening at the bar or club, rather than risk driving intoxicated. However, it may be too soon to tell for sure whether these services are making a significant impact on DUI rates in America. We’ll have to watch closely in the coming years to see for sure.
Once Uber goes public, a move the company appears to be planning for 2019, the detailed data they publish concerning trips in specific US states and cities will definitely help us get a better idea of whether there truly is any connection between rideshares and drunk driving rates.
In order to determine whether Uber is making any difference in the number of people driving under the influence, we decided to compare the rideshare company’s overall growth to changes in DUI rates in the US. To find these data points, we relied heavily on Uber’s published statistics and on reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
We would have liked to compare Uber’s growth and popularity in specific US states and cities, as opposed to worldwide, but unfortunately the company has yet to publish this data. Recognizing this limitation, we decided to include information about DUI rates in five specific US cities that represented a diverse geographical and demographic range of US drivers.