North Dakota likes to drink. Our state consumes more gallons of beer per-capita than any other state. That’s probably due at least in some part to the strong German heritage in our state. German is, after all, the second most popular language here.
Unfortunately, that also means a lot of drunk driving. North Dakota also has the worst rate of drunk driving fatalities in the nation. There are a lot of long roads home for North Dakotans, and public transportation options like buses and taxis aren’t always feasible.
So it’s with great interest that I read about this study which finds a small but consistent correlation between the availability of Uber – the ride hailing service that traditional cab companies love to hate – and decreased fatalities from traffic incidents related to alcohol consumption.
The research was done by professors at Philadelphia’s Temple University, and found a reduction of alcohol-related traffic fatalities by 3-5 percent within three months after the entry of UberX into a city. The UberX service is key, because that’s the company’s cheapest service. The traditional black car Uber service, which typically isn’t all that cheaper than a traditional cab, had no such correlation.
Correlation is not necessarily causation, of course, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that when people are given easier and cheaper access to safe rides home after a night of drinking they avail themselves of it to the benefit of overall public safety.
For years I’ve been arguing that a better way to address drinking and driving than the typical more cops, stiffer penalties approach might be to make it easier for those who have been drinking to choose not to drive. Uber seems to be helping in that regard.
When the company moved its service into Fargo I speculated, while guest hosting for Jay Thomas on WDAY AM970, that we could see a reduction in the city’s DUI rates. I suspect now that the correlation between lower DUI rates and Uber’s services might be even larger in Fargo which doesn’t have as many public transportation options as the more urban areas targeted in the Temple study.
Or maybe they won’t. Crime rates are hugely complicated, and are influenced by far more variables than I could list here, but it will be interesting to see. At the very least, I think we can say that the innovations Uber has provided to make public transportation for everyone – whether they’ve been drinking or not – is of great public benefit. Those opposing Uber’s entry into various markets across the U.S., motivated often it seems by a desire to protect entrenched business models, are probably hurting public safety.