As the struggling members of outmoded urban taxi cartels fight to hobble smartphone apps such as Uber, more data are backing up the intuition that making it easier to summon a ride home could diminish drunk driving and save lives.
A new study by Brad N. Greenwood and Sunil Wattal of Temple University's Fox School of Business looked at California cities where Uber operates. They found a life-saving benefit in Uber's presence: "a 3.6%–5.6% decrease in the rate of motor vehicle homicides per quarter in the state of California." There are around 1,000 alcohol-related auto accident deaths in California every year, so dozens of lives are at stake.
The researchers also found price sensitivity. The effect is clearer with the cheaper UberX service than it is with the more expensive Uber Black. The effect is also not apparent during surge pricing, that is, at moments of peak demand, when the company increases its rates. People are willing to pay to avoid drunk driving, but not all that much.
The effect does not happen immediately. It manifests itself between 9 and 15 months after UberX enters a market, when consumers have had time to acclimate to having an alternative to driving themselves home. Uber also does not appear to have an effect on non-alcohol-related motor fatalities, leading the authors to conclude that Uber's "potential spike in automobiles on the road is not negatively affecting other drivers."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Apps Save Lives".