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Physicians Should Advocate for Ridesharing Services to Save Lives

Posted on Wed, Jun 08, 2016
Physicians Should Advocate for Ridesharing Services to Save Lives

By Adam Corley, MD, FACEP
 
Several weeks ago, I met an old friend for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Dallas. Since I thought we might have a cocktail or a glass of wine, I decided not to drive and used the ridesharing app Uber instead. It turns out that he had the same thought and used Uber as well. We spent some time over dinner discussing Uber and other ridesharing applications, their economic impact, public health implications and whether or not they reduce individual risk.
 
Uber is one of a relatively new class of smartphone apps that connects people who need a ride with drivers contracted with the company but using their personal vehicles. When a ride is requested, a message goes out to nearby drivers with the location of the pick up. The drivers then decide if they would like to commit to the fare. After a driver accepts the ride, his or her name, phone number and location as well as estimated time of arrival are readily available to the customer. The service is reasonably priced and is connected directly to a credit card on file, thus eliminating the need to provide cash or credit card to the driver at your destination.
 
As you might guess, my friend and I were not the first people to ponder the significance of Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing services. Brad Greenwald and Sunil Wattal of Temple University published a paper last year where they compared vehicular homicide rates in California cities before and after entry of Uber into the market. Their results show that “entry of Uber X results in a 3.6 percent to 5.6 percent decrease in the rate of motor vehicle homicides per quarter in the state of California.”
 
Greenwald and Wattal estimate that full, nationwide implementation of Uber would save 500 lives and approximately $1.3 billion taxpayer dollars annually.
 
Bill Spencer, investigative reporter for News 2 in Houston, reported that in 2013 there were 6,205 arrests for driving while intoxicated in Houston. In 2014, a year after Uber’s entry, arrests were down to 5,182. This represents a year-over-year reduction in DWI arrests of 16.5 percent.
 
I will be the first to admit that correlation does not equal causation and that this data is not bullet proof. However, this evidence supports the intuitive conclusion that easy access to reliable and inexpensive transportation that substitutes for driving while intoxicated will reduce accidents and save lives.
 
Unfortunately, not everyone shares my positive view of Uber and other ridesharing apps. Several cities have either limited or significantly regulated ridesharing.
 
Last December, the Austin City Council considered 12 pages of new and expanded regulations governing ridesharing applications. Fingerprint background checks, approved trade dress, robust data reporting to the government, prohibition of drivers accepting street hails, and a fee paid to the City of Austin were included in the proposal.
 
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told the City Council, “Data here and around the country shows that TNCs (transportation network companies)…getting people off the streets and home safely helps with our DWI problem, no argument about it.” Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton said “drunk driving in Austin is an epidemic. It is my strong opinion that we ensure that TNC companies remain operational in Austin, as they provide a critical service that is keeping Austin much safer that we were without them.”
 
Despite the objections from Chief Acevedo and Sheriff Hamilton and despite the intuitive reasoning and scientific research validating the benefit of ridesharing, the new ordinances passed.
 
Uber and Lyft not only didn’t find value in the new regulations but they didn’t believe them to be consistent with their long-term business models. In response to the new ordinance, 65,000 signatures were collected to put the new regulations in front of voters and a special election was held in May.
 
With 17 percent of registered voters turning out to cast their ballots, the ordinance was upheld 56 percent to 44 percent. Uber and Lyft have now ceased operations in Austin and approximately 10,000 drivers are no longer able use a phone app to partner with potential customers.
 
From a public health standpoint, I think that the impact is clear – there will be more DWI arrests and more accidents and deaths from drunk driving now that Uber and Lyft are gone. Whether you feel Austin’s regulations were reasonable or not, we as physicians should work with our cities and states to create a political and regulatory environment where ridesharing is an available, safe and attractive option to drinking and driving.

Adam Corley
 
Adam Corley, MD, FACEP, is a practicing emergency physician with more than 10 years of clinical and leadership experience. Dr. Corley serves as Executive Vice President for EmCare’s West Division. He also serves as the medical director for several EMS services and the Anderson County Texas Sheriff’s Department. Dr. Corley lectures and writes on a variety of topics, including decision science and behavioral economics, management of disruptive behavior in healthcare, conflict resolution and healthcare leadership.
 

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