UC Berkeley researchers find ride-share apps reduce US traffic fatalities

Photo of hand holding a phone with "UBER" on the screen
Stock Catalog/Creative Commons
A study by UC Berkeley professors found that ride-sharing apps help reduce the amount of alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Photo by Stock Catalog under CC-BY-SA-3.0-US

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A study by UC Berkeley professors published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that ride-sharing apps have significantly decreased U.S. traffic fatalities.

The study focuses particularly on alcohol-related traffic fatalities and was authored by campus Haas School of Business professor Lucas Davis and campus Agricultural and Resource Economics professor Michael Anderson. Unlike previous studies on the same topic that utilize publicly available information on Uber entry dates, Davis and Anderson’s study uses data owned by Uber, leading to more detailed data analysis, according to Davis.

“Previous studies of the effect of ridesharing on traffic fatalities … have yielded inconsistent, often contradictory conclusions,” Davis said in an email. “Our study uses proprietary data from Uber measuring monthly rideshare activity at the Census tract level.”

The impact of ride-share apps on U.S. alcohol-related traffic fatalities was statistically significant, the study found. Davis added that due to more comprehensive data, it became clear that ride-sharing apps resulted in fewer traffic fatalities in the U.S.

The results of the paper indicate ride-sharing has decreased total U.S. traffic fatalities by 4% and alcohol-related traffic fatalities by approximately 6%. Based on standard estimates of the value of statistical life, or the amount of money a large group of people would pay to reduce their risk of death, the lifesaving benefits are more than $2.3 billion anually.

“We find the largest impacts during nights and weekends,” Davis said in the email. “This makes sense because this is when most drunk-driving occurs.”

While the study used data from Uber, the conclusions are applicable to ride-sharing more generally, Davis said. Since Uber was the dominant ride-sharing company during the period of the study, Davis added that it is representative of most ride-sharing companies.

There are currently no plans for a follow-up study, according to Davis.

“Our study doesn’t perform a full-fledged cost-benefit analysis,” Davis said in the email. “However, we do think that reduced traffic fatalities is an important benefit that needs to be taken into account in any such analysis.”

Vani Suresh is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @vanisuresh_.