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Drunk driving has long been a problem on America’s roadways. DUIs have serious and lasting legal consequences for those accused of impaired driving, with charges necessitating hiring a DUI lawyer and potentially resulting in jail time. Drunk driving also claims lives and causes injuries.

The good news is that the rate of impaired driving accidents has been steadily declining. Many factors, including stricter laws and public education campaigns, have contributed to this reduction. However, one specific societal change had an outsized impact: the rise of ridesharing services.

Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft revolutionized America’s transportation infrastructure, normalizing calling for a ride and simplifying arranging a pickup. As the statistics below demonstrate, the impact has been profound, and lives have likely been saved.

Unfortunately, in the post-pandemic era, some of this progress has been reversed, in large part due to a growing number of drugged drivers. With motorists less likely to perceive drug driving to be a high risk behavior, these results may be explained by the fact drivers impaired by substances like marijuana may be less likely to turn to ridesharing services for a trip home.

Forbes collected publicly available data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, The Fatality Analysis Reporting System, and professional journals to determine the effects of ridesharing on impaired driving. Read on below to learn what the data shows.

Key Takeaways

  • 37 people die each day in the United States as a result of impaired driving.
  • Since Uber’s widespread adoption in 2015, there has been a substantial decrease in DUI arrests and fatalities.
  • In the post-pandemic ERA, deaths are on the rise again with drugged driving playing a major role.
  • Drivers are less likely to perceive drugged driving as dangerous and likely to lead to arrest, so may be less likely to use ride-sharing services to avoid the behavior.

DUIs in the United States

Each day in the United States, 37 people die as a result of impaired driving,1 with 13,524 people losing their lives to impaired driving crashes in 2022 alone.2 While the death rate remains far too high, fatalities resulting from impaired driving have declined 36% since 1982.3

DUI arrests have also declined sharply, although they still account for one in 10 arrests that occur nationwide. An estimated 443,000 people were arrested in 2021 for impaired driving offenses, which is a dramatic decrease since 2014, when close to a million people faced arrest on drunk driving charges.3

The decline in both arrests and fatalities may be explained by the rise of better alternatives to driving impaired, including easy access to transportation through Lyft and Uber.

Unfortunately, after a decades-long decline in impaired driving, trends shifted in the COVID-19 era, and drunk driving deaths have continued rising post-pandemic. Still, rates remain below historic norms.3


Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths by Alcohol Involvement

As the table below shows, DUI fatalities have been on the decline for decades.

Factors contributing to this decrease include:

  • Stricter DUI laws. While the first laws against drinking and driving appeared as early as 19104 , it was not until 2000 that Congress implemented a 0.08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit nationwide, forcing states to adopt the new standard or risk losing federal highway funding.5
  • Advocacy groups. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was formed in 1980 by a woman named Candice Lightner, who lost her daughter to an impaired driver. The nonprofit advocacy group is one of many that aims to educate the public about the dangers of driving impaired.6
  • Improved vehicle safety. Vehicles have also become safer over time with the addition of features such as airbags and seatbelts. These improvements reduced the overall likelihood of death in any type of collision.


Motor Vehicle Traffic Deaths Since the Introduction of Ridesharing

While motor vehicle fatalities due to impaired drivers had already begun their decline, ridesharing likely accelerated the trend towards fewer impaired driving deaths.

The table below shows the rise of rideshare services, as well as the role alcohol impairment played in causing motor vehicle deaths.

However, the overall chart shows that as Uber has taken on an increased market share since its launch in 2015, alcohol-impaired fatalities as a share of vehicle deaths have declined.

Researchers estimate that Uber was responsible for a 6.1% overall reduction in traffic fatalities and a 4% reduction in alcohol-related driving deaths by 2019, just four years after its 2015 launch.7

Motor vehicle collision traumas were also reduced post-2015, with a 23.8% decline in trauma events on Friday and Saturday nights among all age groups and a 38.9% reduction in these incidents for motorists under the age of 30.8


DUI Arrest Trends

From the 1980s to the 2010s, there was also a marked reduction in drunk driving arrests as a result of broader awareness of the dangers of impaired driving and stricter laws serving as a deterrent.9 During the period from 1980 to 2014:

  • DUI arrest rates declined from 626.9 to 350.6 per 100,000 people.
  • Arrest rates under other liquor laws declined from 204 to 100.7 per 100,000 people.
  • Arrest rates for all offenses related to alcohol impairment declined from 495.5 to 130.1.
  • There were 9,168,889 DUI arrests between 2012 and 2022—averaging 383.314 DUI arrests per 100,000 licensed residents in the U.S. over the last 10 years.

Ridesharing apps again accelerated these trends, substantially reducing the number of people arrested for impaired driving. A study of three major cities found that not only did DUI arrests decrease after the introduction of ridesharing, but that the decrease was much more significant than the trends of the previous decades would suggest.10

In the years prior to Uber and Lyft, there were more than 1.1 million DUI arrests annually across the United States. Since 2015 when ridesharing became more widespread nationwide, the numbers have dropped closer to 1 million, which is a substantial decrease. The table below shows the total arrests each year and demonstrates the decline.

The greatest reduction in DUI arrests occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings when drinking is most prevalent. The reduction in impaired driving arrests was also more pronounced in city centers, where there were higher Uber utilization rates compared to suburban areas.8

This reduction is not a surprise, with 33% of rideshare users reporting they utilized the service to decrease the risks associated with driving after consuming drugs or alcohol.11


Drugged Driving May be Undoing the Progress

Unfortunately, in the post-pandemic era, the positive trend of declining DUIs that has persisted for decades has been reversing. In fact, traffic deaths soared in the first half of 2021 despite the reduced number of drivers on the road during the pandemic, reaching the highest level in 15 years.12

Increased rates of drugged driving has been a major contributing factor to these rising deaths, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration identifying an increase in cannabinoid and opioid use among drivers during the pandemic and in its aftermath.13 The National Survey on Drug Use and Health Data estimated as many as 11.7 million motorists drove under the influence of illicit drugs in 2021, including marijuana.14

Motorists are less likely to perceive drugged driving as dangerous, with just 70% of motorists reporting they believe driving within an hour of marijuana use is very or extremely dangerous, compared with 94% who recognized the dangers of drunk driving. Further, while 68% of people believe a drunk driver is likely to be apprehended by the police, just 26% said the same about a marijuana-impaired driver.15

With motorists less aware of the dangers of drug-impaired driving, drivers under the influence of drugs may be less likely to call for a rideshare service and avoid getting behind the wheel. Increased public education about the dangers of drugged driving could help to reduce these troubling trends.


Conclusion

Rideshare technology has changed America in profound ways, both positive and negative. However, easy and quick access to affordable rides from the palm of the hand has made a substantial difference in drunk driving in ways that strict laws and public advocacy could not—they have provided a viable alternative to getting behind the wheel intoxicated and this has made a substantial difference.

They have the potential to do the same for drugged driving risks, which could help to reduce the post-pandemic increase in DUI fatalities, but more public education may be necessary to achieve this outcome.


Our Methodology

Forbes Advisor analyzed the number of auto-related deaths caused by alcohol of BAC 0.08 or higher as a share of overall auto deaths. Both the number of deaths from drunk driving and the overall number of deaths from driving came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Forbes Advisor then tracked the year-over-year change in the share of driving fatalities linked to alcohol impairment from 2014 (Uber’s first year it reported revenue) and 2015 (Uber’s first year reporting the number of passengers) to see if and how Uber’s growing popularity changed the share of alcohol-related fatalities.


Sources

  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk Driving
  2. Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility. Drunk Driving Fatality Statistics.
  3. Safe Home. DUI Statistics and Trends: 2023 Annual Report
  4. History.com: First Drunk Driving Arrest
  5. Clinton White House Archives: President Clinton Helps Make Our Roads Safer for American Families
  6. Mothers Against Drunk Driving: History.
  7. UC Berkeley. Ride-sharing apps cut alcohol-related traffic deaths by 6%
  8. JAMA Network. Association of Rideshare Use With Alcohol-Associated Motor Vehicle Crash Trauma
  9. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2013–2014 National Roadside Study of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers
  10. National District Attorneys Association. Rideshare Volume and DUI Incidents in Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois and Fort Worth, Texas
  11. UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies. Disruptive Transportation: The Adoption, Utilization, and Impacts of Ride-Hailing in the United States.
  12. Reuters. U.S. traffic deaths soar 18% in 2021 to highest first half since 2006
  13. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drugged Driving.
  14. Substance Abuse Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, SAMHSA.
  15. Foundation for Traffic Safety: 2022 Traffic Safety Culture Index.

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Last Update: June 27, 2024

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