Ride-hailing helps prevent drunk driving

Adam Humphrey

Congratulations, citizens of Travis County, we drink like fish. According to a report by Austin’s ABC affiliate, county residents drink far more on average than residents of any other county of the state, partially because of the area’s University of Texas students and Sixth Street bars. Fortunately, students have a slew of options to get home safely, none of which are more accessible than ride-hailing services.

Uber and Lyft provide a fantastic option for bar patrons after closing time. When Austin legalized these transportation network companies in October 2014, residents were provided with access to a reliable, easy way to get home safe after a night on the town. These services, in addition to the city’s strict DWI enforcement, have played a part in a decrease in drinking and driving incidents across the city over the past three years.

“Any increase in an alternative transportation method can’t do anything but help,” APD DWI enforcement officer Keith Walker said in a 2015 interview.

These companies advertise themselves as safe transportation options. Uber recently partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to study the ride-hailing companies’ effects on drinking and driving. The study claims that ride requests peak around bar closing times and that the presence of Uber leads to a general decrease in DUI arrests and alcohol-related crashes among drivers under 30.

Multiple researchers have examined this trend in cities where Uber operates, and, while data detailing this topic is hard to obtain, they arrive at similar conclusions: Uber appears to play a role in reducing drinking and driving.

The University has also made an effort to promote ride-hailing back from Sixth Street. It began the Safe Ride program in 2014. The program has had trouble staying afloat because of funding issues, but it shows ride-hailing services have been embraced by the community.

Improvements to the practices of Uber and Lyft will only happen if the services stick around. While the companies have employed less-than-savory tactics to try and strong-arm the City Council, it is more beneficial to keep an open dialogue than to force them out of Austin. If they leave, efforts to collect proper data for informed policy-making will be put on hold. That, in addition to the removal of a safe alternative to driving under the influence, will hurt Austin more than it helps. On May 7, vote yes on the “Ridesharing Works for Austin” ordinance.

Humphrey is a journalism senior from Round Rock. Follow him on Twitter @Humphrinator.