Is Uber saving lives?
By:   //  US News

by Carol Thompson

Late last month, Uber Technologies and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) released a report claiming that the app-activated ridesharing service is reducing the number of drunk driving accidents among young people, however, Pro Publica, an investigative news agency, has questioned the evidence used in making the claim.

“The Big Game (Super Bowl) consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous times of the year for drunk-driving deaths. But a study conducted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Uber Technologies, Inc. shows it doesn’t have to be that way, a MADD press release states.  “… the study demonstrates that not only is Uber a convenient transportation option but that it can also be a powerful tool in the fight to reduce the number of drunk-driving crashes.”

Among the findings MADD and Uber reported: In California, drunk-driving crashes fell 6.5 percent among drivers under 30 in the markets where Uber operates following the launch of uberX in the state. That represents potentially 60 fewer drunk driving crashes each month — a total of 1,800 crashes avoided — since July 2012. California is Uber’s home state and longest-running market and demonstrates for a possible similar reduction in other Uber markets.

The report also includes a survey of attitudes about ridesharing services and their role in combating drunk driving. Nearly 4 in 5 (78 percent) respondents said friends are less likely to drive home after drinking since ridesharing services like Uber started operating in their city. A remarkable 93 percent of people would recommend Uber as a safer way home to a friend who had been drinking, MADD’s press release states.

“We believe there is a direct relationship between the presence of uberX (Uber’s lowest-cost option) in a city and the amount of drunk driving crashes involving younger populations,” the report says.

Uber’s report has two key graphics: The first shows alcohol-involved crashes in California markets where Uber operates. The second shows the same, but in cities where there is no Uber service. Each graph compares accidents between under-30 and 30-and-over drivers. The charts actually show, in general, a downward trend of drunk driving accidents in both Uber and non-Uber markets, according to Pro Publica. “Uber does not provide evidence in its report that Uber users and those under 30 are the same population. A methodology shared with us by Uber asserts that their users are generally younger and more technologically savvy,” Pro Publica said in it’s Feb. 3 story.

Uber’s report credits an analysis by Nate Good, who is chief technology officer for an online ticketing company as well as an amateur statistician and self-described ridesharing proponent. Uber’s report reads: “Inspired by Nate Good’s analysis—which demonstrated a clear downward trend in alcohol-related crashes in Pennsylvania’s youngest cohort once ridesharing was available—we decided to replicate that study in California at large using data procured from the State.”

However, Pro Publica pointed out that  Good’s study had nothing to do with “alcohol-related crashes.” Good analyzed DUI arrests.

Uber, according to it’s website, operates in 54 countries and dozens of locations in North America. The Uber app allows the user to select a location, enter the address of the destination, and be picked up by a driver, eliminating the need to hail a cab or wait for a bus.


Image: Flickr/Cesar T. Sanchez

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