Best Of EAST #6: Uber / Lyft vs Drunk Driving

Ride share services like Uber and Lyft are now pretty much ubiquitous. It’s so easy to get a ride these days one would think that the incidence of car crashes due to drunk driving should be declining, right?

Well, nobody knows for sure. But the group at Tulane decided to look at their own data for alcohol-related car crashes over a seven year period. They also combed regional traffic databases for more information and compared the data from pre- to post- arrival of ride share services.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 1474 patients involved in alcohol-related crashes (ARC)
  • The proportion of alcohol-related ARCs decreased significantly from 39% to 29%
  • The overall annual incidence of fatal ARCs seen at Tulane decreased significantly from 11.6 to 5, and also decreased significantly within the region
  • However, the incidence of ARCs only decreased within the 21-24 year age group(!)

My comment: This is very interesting work! The statistics appear to be sound and the number sufficiently large. It shows that it might be possible to decrease drunk driving injuries using methods other that the usual prevention efforts. It is puzzling, though, that the effect is only seen in a very narrow age group in the population. Practically everyone can use a ride-hailing app these days. Even I do!

Here are my questions for the authors and presenter:

  1. How do you explain the very narrow age-range that appears to be affected? Remember, this study shows an association, not cause and effect. Could it be that something else is reducing alcohol-related crashes in this specific age group, and it has nothing to do with ride share availability? What else could it be?
  2. How can this decrease in 21-24 year olds hold when there was such a significant decrease in overall alcohol-related crashes? Was everyone driving around New Orleans in that age group? Otherwise, how can this be explained?

I am fascinated by this study. But it’s going to be difficult to separate out other confounding variables and causes to be able to point definitively to any benefit from ride share services.

Reference: Do ride sharing services affect the incidence of alcohol-related motor vehicle collisions? EAST Annual Assembly abstract #22, 2020.

Source: The Trauma Professionals’s Blog