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Is Uber reducing drunk driving? New study says no.

By Fredrick Kunkle, The Washington Post

A new study casts doubt on Uber’s claim that ride-sharing has reduced drunken driving.

Researchers at Oxford University and the University of Southern California who examined county-level data in the United States before and after the arrival of Uber and its competitors in those markets found that ride-sharing had no effect on drinking-related or holiday- and weekend-related fatalities.

One reason could be that, despite the soaring popularity of Uber and other ride-sharing services, there still may not be enough ride-share drivers available yet to make a dent on drunken driving, the authors said. They also suggest that the tipsy riders who now call Uber are the ones who formerly would have called a taxi. For others, the odds of getting a DUI are still so low that many would prefer to gamble rather than lay out money for a ride-sharing service. Drunks, after all, are just not rational.

“The takeaway for me is that there’s still tons of room for improvement when it comes to reducing drunk driving fatalities,” David Kirk, a co-author of the study, said Wednesday in an interview via Skype.

The new  study — which was published July 22 in the American Journal of Epidemiology — adds a new element to the debate over the merits of the popular and disruptive business model.

Uber pointed to other recent research that back up its contention that ride-sharing cuts down on drunken driving. A paper co-authored by researchers at Providence College and Stonehill College found reductions in DUI’s of as much as 62 percent, as well as declines in fatal accidents.

The company also said surveys show at least 80 percent of its riders have said that the service helped them avoid drinking and driving, and that its peak usage coincides with times when people are barhopping and partying.

“We’re glad Uber can provide an alternative to drunk driving and help people make more responsible choices,” Uber spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in an email. “Our ridership numbers show that trips peak at times when people are more likely to be out drinking and 80% of riders says that Uber has helped them personally avoid drinking and driving.”

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