Can Uber really reduce drink driving deaths?

Uber, by night: Image: Getty.

It’s been 40 years since Britain enforced a legal limit of alcohol behind the wheel – but drink driving still took 220 lives in 2015.

One company trying to reduce this statistic is Uber, which is quite confident in its ability to lower alcohol-related road fatalities. It describes itself as a “powerful tool in the quest to protect families from drunk driving”, and has cited research backing this up in a number of major cities.

But while the intention is commendable, the data is not so conclusive. A study published earlier this year did find a 25 to 35 per cent reduction in alcohol-related car accidents in New York, following Uber’s arrival in 2011. Research from 2016, however, analysed data from the US’s 100 most populated metropolitan areas, and found Uber made no difference to traffic fatalities, including those involving alcohol.

So what explains the disparity? According to new research, it may come down to the design of individual cities.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania zoomed in on for US cities where Uber services had ceased then been reintroduced. Analysing data from state Departments of Transportation, they found a 29 per cent decrease in alcohol-involved crashes in San Antonio and a 62 per cent decrease in Portland, but in Reno there was no noticeable change.

The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concludes that the impact of Uber on drink driving-related crashes could depend on a city's characteristics, and how much they discourage people from driving. A city with more congestion and limited parking, for example, may see a greater difference once Uber comes along. 

“Theoretically, ridesharing could reduce alcohol-involved crashes in locations where other modes of transportation are less attractive than driving one’s own vehicle while under the influence of alcohol,” the study states.

That said, this theory doesn’t explain the decrease in crashes in San Antonio, where public transport is scarce and most people rely on cars. And there are other factors at play, too. Disparities between cities may also be down to the willingness of locals to use other transportation, how expensive Uber fares are compared to the alternatives, even media attention and public interest in Uber. The study adds that, “The perceived attractiveness of ridesharing will depend, among other things, on a city’s topology and the strength and enforcement of drunk-driving laws.”


Despite the decrease in alcohol-involved crashes in Portland, there study found no changes to crashes with injury overall. “In our analyses the reductions in alcohol-involved crashes due to ridesharing were wholly offset by increases in non-alcohol crashes,” explains Christopher Morrison, the study’s lead researcher. “So it is possible that ridesharing doesn’t affect the overall number of crashes in a city.”  

What might cause these non-alcohol crashes? The paper states that rideshare drivers have to use a mobile phone when driving, which could cause “distraction in the form of glances away from the road,” subsequently increasing the risk of crashing.

But, Morrison adds, “Alcohol-involved crashes typically occur at higher speed and are more serious than non-alcohol crashes. So the benefits may still outweigh the costs.”

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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