The Uber effect on drunk driving
Reducing impaired driving has been one of Georgia lawmakers’ and public safety officials’ primary objectives for decades. In an effort to meet this goal, public officials have lowered the legal alcohol limit, increased the prevalence of DUI checkpoints, created DUI task forces and even embarked on advertising campaigns.
These tactics appear to have reduced the frequency of drunk driving to a degree. Still, while driving under the influence persists as a significant problem, recently released data show that when ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft entered the Georgia market, the Peach State witnessed a massive decrease in DUI convictions. This suggests that while government attempts to curb drunk driving have borne fruit, innovations in the private market may have had an even more pronounced, positive impact on impaired driving over the past several years.
Yet despite ride-sharing’s promise of improved public health and safety, some states have rushed to overregulate and slap massive taxes on the industry. Georgia must resist the impulse to follow this path. Instead, the Legislature should ensure that ride-sharing companies retain their current flexibility and cost-efficiency so that they may continue aiding Georgia’s public safety efforts.
During the five-year period between 2007 and 2012, Georgia DUI convictions dropped by 16 percent. The following five years, from 2012 to 2017, impaired driving convictions fell by over 34 percent — a decrease of almost 12,000 convictions. What’s behind this significant decline? In Cobb County, Assistant Solicitor General Steven Ellis believes that “we have fewer impaired drivers
on the road because of ride-share services.” Indeed, Uber expanded into Atlanta in 2012 and Lyft in 2013. Ever since these two services entered the Georgia market, DUI convictions have declined at around twice the previous pace.
Ride-sharing’s allure is easy to see. For years, drinkers had limited options for returning home after a night on the town. While some walked, hailed a cab or had a friend give them a ride, others risked driving drunk. For various reasons, all of these options had shortcomings. Walking for miles could be laborious and dangerous at night. Cabs are often challenging to hail, expensive and plagued by poor customer service. Friends are not always available. And driving while intoxicated poses a very real danger.
Ride-sharing companies, on the other hand, provide a more appealing alternative to these less-than-satisfactory options. In every city without a burdensome tax and regulatory environment, Uber and Lyft are far cheaper than taxis. Both services also inform riders of their fares before embarking, unlike cabs, which can surprise customers with high prices at the end of the trip. Because of ride-sharing apps, riders also know precisely when their driver will arrive, which increases the service’s convenience. Traditional taxis do not provide this service. Finally, because of the customer rating system that is integral to the Uber and Lyft platforms, their drivers are encouraged to provide a high-quality experience. Taxi cab companies do not rely on such a system and thus their drivers do not have the same incentives to offer better services.
While the reduced number of DUI convictions is stunning, some still debate ride-sharing’s effect on drunk driving in Georgia. They argue that the rapid reduction of DUI convictions can be ascribed to a surge of individuals refusing the state-administered DUI test, which can result in a reckless driving charge rather than a DUI. However, fewer people declined the test in 2017 than in 2012, meaning that DUI-test refusals cannot account for the drop in DUI convictions. They likely cannot be attributed to altered policing or prosecutorial practices, either. In fact, Assistant Solicitor General Ellis — who has prosecuted hundreds of DUI cases — said, “In Cobb [County], we are pursuing DUIs with the same frequency as six years ago. This crime is still a top priority for our traffic enforcement units and for our office.”
The bottom line is that Georgia DUI convictions are at historic lows, and it seems that businesses like Uber and Lyft have had much to do with this. Ellis agrees: “I really think rideshare services are the biggest factors reducing impaired driving here in Cobb and Metro Atlanta.”
Still, Georgians shouldn’t celebrate just yet. Too many people still drive while impaired, and it will take continued efforts to make the roads safer. Law enforcement and ride-sharing businesses can complement one another and lead to improved outcomes, but only if the Legislature refrains from overburdening the industry with regulations and taxes.