Uber’s Claim They Reduced Drunk Driving May Have Been False

By May Wilkerson 02/06/15

Claims by the company that it has reduced drunk driving may be misleading at best.

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Last week, popular rideshare service Uber claimed to have been responsible for a decrease in drunk driving among young people, according to a company report. "When empowered with more transportation options like Uber, people are making better choices that save lives,” said the company, which allows users to summon a driver with a Smartphone app. But it turns out, these claims may be misleading.

"Since we launched uberX in California, drunk-driving crashes decreased by 60 per month for drivers under 30," the company’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, wrote in an email to members. "That's 1,800 crashes likely prevented over the past 2 [and a half] years."

But this powerful declaration may have been based on exaggerated evidence. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which co-authored the report, pointed out that there is no proof of a direct link between Uber and the drop in drunk driving.

"Nobody is saying that there is a causation relationship here, this is a correlation relationship. Purely correlational," said Amy George, senior VP of marketing and communications for MADD.

Uber's report is based on statistics on drunk driving among under-30 and 30-and-over drivers, comparing cities that have Uber with those that don’t. The numbers actually show an overall downward trend of drunk driving accidents in all the cities studied, with or without Uber. But drunk driving crashes for those under 30 have dropped more in cities that have Uber.

"We believe there is a direct relationship between the presence of uberX (Uber's lowest-cost option) in a city and the amount of drunk driving crashes involving younger populations,” the report said.

But, as The Huffington Post has pointed out, there is no way to prove that Uber is responsible for this trend. Uber is backing their claims on the idea that their users are generally younger. But there is no evidence to suggest that the under-30 population who have seen a drop in drunk driving necessarily used Uber.

"We believe the results of the study are an encouraging step in the right direction and provide evidence that ridesharing services like Uber are making a meaningful and positive impact on mindsets and the rate of drunk driving," said Uber spokesperson Michael Amodeo. "We attempt to deal with other factors in our study by breaking out the under 30 and over 30 groups, and we're comparing them against each other."

Uber's report also credits an analysis by Nate Good, an amateur statistician and chief technology officer for an online ticketing company. The report states that Good’s analysis "demonstrated a clear downward trend in alcohol-related crashes in Pennsylvania's youngest cohort once ridesharing was available."

But Good's study was actually based on DUI arrests, not car crashes where alcohol was involved.

"That was a poor choice of words on Uber's part,” Good said. "Correlation does not equate to causation.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.