If Uber Doesn’t Stop Drunk Driving, What Does?

uber for drunk drivingA lot of Millennial hearts sank when the news came out that Uber does not reduce drunk driving. The ride-sharing service had been touting its beneficial effect on road safety, since it offers people easy access to a ride home after a night of drinking. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is on record as supporting Uber and ridesharing services, and issued a report calling the businesses “a powerful tool in the fight to reduce the number of drunk-driving crashes.”

Well, no, according to the American Journal of Epidemiology.

That publication studied alcohol-related traffic deaths in US metropolitan areas before and after ridesharing was introduced. The upshot: Uber doesn’t save lives. The implication is that people who can afford Uber would have been able to afford a taxi anyway, so the service merely offered more convenience.

A bit sad, if true. We need more solutions to the problem of drunk driving, and the pervasiveness of Uber and Lyft cars seemed to ease the burden on drinkers who needed to get home safely.

If ridesharing isn’t the answer, then what is?

Quick answer: doing what already works. Drunk driving fatalities are down remarkably from decades ago, and that decline is the result of persistent efforts by many public-spirited people and organizations. It boils down to the 4 E’s:

The 4 E’s of DUI Prevention

  • Education. Spreading the word that drunk driving is dangerous and also uncool. Ultimately everyone must see impaired driving as selfish, unglamorous, and lethal.
  • Electronics. Ignition interlock technology has transformed the landscape of road safety by reducing drunk driving recidivism. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 28 states have laws requiring all offenders to use interlock devices, because they work.
  • Enforcement. This means not just the police, who are out there arresting impaired drivers, but a legal system that helps reduce DUI recidivism by monitoring and supervising offenders. DUI courts, which combine ignition interlocks with supervised probation to ensure compliance with license restrictions and treatment programs, are very successful in this regard.
  • Enacting Legislation. Drunk driving penalties should match the severity of the crime. All states should mandate ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses. Other vital measures include restrictions on open containers in vehicles, “no refusal” laws and administrative license revocation (automatic suspension upon DUI arrest).

In retrospect, it was too good to be true. Proselytizers for technology have promised us flying cars, paperless offices, meals in pill form, and robot servants. It seemed plausible that our all-powerful smartphones would deliver us safer roads too. But it turns out the problem is a little more complex than that.

It’s great that more options are available for people who want a ride home, but it’s more vital to convince more people too choose a sober ride, and to get them off the road if they drive drunk.  There’s no app for that, but there is a plan, and we can all save lives by putting it into action.