News Story

Uber, Lyft May Be Reducing Michigan Drunk Driver Crashes

But activist site seems to criticize ridesharing services as competitors to taxpayer-funded transit

Drunk driving crashes in Michigan are down by nearly 50 percent over the past two decades, according to figures from the Michigan State Police. New research suggests an unexpected source for some of that decline: the growing popularity of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft.

In 1999, more than 18,000 crashes on Michigan roads involved drunken drivers. That number decreased to 14,500 in 2004 and to about 11,000 in 2008. By 2018, it fell even further, to 9,786.

In 2018, there were five times as many crashes involving deer as there were crashes involving drunken drivers.

But at least one Detroit transit booster appears to have used current drunk driving crash statistics to criticize ridesharing services, which are sometimes seen as competitors to taxpayer-funded mass transit.

In late May, a web-based guide to Detroit transit, created by a local activist, tweeted that many of the state’s 2018 alcohol-related crashes occurred because some people decided to drive home drunk rather than use Uber or Lyft and leave their car stranded elsewhere. Because of this, the transit-boosting site argued, the state needs to provide more funding for public transit.

But several studies have concluded that when Uber and Lyft start doing business in an area, the prevalence of drunk driving goes down.

A 2017 study by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania looked at the impact of Uber and Lyft in four major U.S. cities. It found that access to the services decreased DUIs by about 60 percent in Portland, Oregon, and San Antonio, Texas. It did not find a substantial decrease in two Nevada cities included in the study — Reno and Las Vegas — a fact the researchers said may be related to their status as centers of adult-oriented tourism.

Another study by the Chicago-based Moll Law Group found declines in DUI arrest rates in 10 U.S. cities, including Las Vegas, after Uber and Lyft began operating in them.

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said he could not comment on drunken driving numbers. But he said the department supports Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposal to increase transportation taxes.

“The governor’s proposed budget with $2.5 billion in additional revenue for roads would dedicate [3%] of that new revenue to transit and other multi-modal initiatives,” Cranson said. “Michigan’s road funding statute, Act 51, requires that [9%] of state funds for transportation (raised through fuel taxes and registration fees) go to the Comprehensive Transportation Fund — primarily rail and transit.”

“So the governor’s plan would be a significant boost to transit systems across the state, including [in] Detroit,” Cranson said.