How Self-Driving Cars Could Potentially Impact the Alcohol Industry

By David Konow 08/04/16

While self-driving cars may reduce drunk driving accidents and fatalities, they might also increases the likelihood of excessive alcohol consumption. 

How Self-Driving Cars Could Potentially Impact the Alcohol Industry

It’s still a ways away, but we’re getting closer to the day when self-driving cars will be a fact of life. In fact, current estimates tell us they could be available by as early as 2022. Parts manufacturer Delphi Corp. is slated to begin testing self-driving cars in Singapore next year.

Self-driving cars could be a boon in efforts to reduce drunk driving. The cars' autonomous mode could serve as a “booze cruise control,” which some say should allow the driver to drink above the legal limit while being transported to their destination. 

What would this mean for the alcohol industry? According to a recent report published by Morgan Stanley, self-driving cars could be a major financial beacon to the alcohol business, as well as to the restaurant business and, of course, bars. The obvious double-edged sword is that while there could be fewer drunk driving accidents and fatalities, it may allow alcoholism to go through the roof as well.

The analyst report states that "in particular, shared and autonomous vehicle options could drive more on-premise consumption (more last call drinks), off premise consumption (drinks to go—Buffalo Wild Wings is already studying this opportunity) and over time even the opportunity for the potential for alcohol sales from drive-thrus.”

With self-driving cars, the global market for alcohol could go up by $31 billion, the report claims, if “each member of the global drinking population consumes just one more drink per month.” If they down two extra drinks, it could grow by a whopping $250 billion. (Morgan Stanley estimates that there are 2.1 billion drinkers in the world who spend around $1.5 trillion on drinks every year.)

The Federalist even suggests that driverless cars could even help lower the drinking age. “One of the major arguments for the 21-year-old drinking age is to reduce drunk-driving fatalities,” writes Dan McLaughlin. “But what if drunk and stoned college kids never had to drive? The driverless car could unsettle these public policy debates by removing an important trump card in arguments against individual liberty and individual responsibility.”

However, it remains to be seen whether self-driving cars can keep more drunks off the road. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that riding services like Uber have had very little impact on lowering the number of drunk-driving deaths.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.