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Has rideshare changed Boston’s drunk-driving rates?

Julia Fawal - Aug 23, 2023
Drunk Driving Image Header

Young people across the country are heading off to universities for the start of another school semester. As students return to campus and partake in more social gatherings, unfortunately, drinking-and-driving rates are likely to increase, too. According to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 16% to 30% of college students report getting behind the wheel after having a drink. While there are many reasons why people drive under the influence, the American Addiction Centers found in 2023 that one reason is they didn’t have a way to get home. 

The increasing prevalence of rideshare, however, has the potential to change this dangerous behavior. Lyft’s 2023 Economic Report found that 49% of Lyft riders are aged 18 to 34, part of the demographic involved in nearly half of all alcohol-involved fatal crashes in the U.S. And among that age group, 63% reported using Lyft when they’re planning to drink. It’s an encouraging data point. But just because people say they won’t drink and drive, do they actually not drink and drive?    

Today, a groundbreaking study exploring this very question was published by the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), the largest professional association for prosecutors in the U.S., and a Lyft partner. It is the first of its kind to use rideshare volume data from Uber in addition to Lyft, presenting the most complete picture of rideshare’s impact on impaired driving yet — and the results are promising.

Boston: A case study

The NDAA study examined the relationship between rideshare and drunk-driving rates in Boston, Worcester, and Northampton, Massachusetts. Analyzing data on DUI arrests starting in 2012 for Boston, 2010 for Worcester, and 2002 for Northampton (and excluding anything after 2019, due to the changes in traffic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic), the NDAA found that DUI arrests decreased by up to 53% following the introduction of rideshare services.

Boston Rideshare Volume and DUI Incidents
Boston rideshare volume and DUI incidents from 2012 to 2019.

The study is welcome news for Boston, which is home to 24 college campuses and universities — making it the fourth-most-student-populated city in the United States. According to Lyft data from 2021 to 2023, roughly 10% of evening weekend rides to college campuses in Boston were from bars. In particular, there is a 33% increase in rides from these venues to campuses between midnight and 2 a.m. on weekends, as public transportation shuts down and transit options become limited. If these services hadn’t been available, students may have chosen to drive themselves back to campus. 

“There is never an excuse to drive while impaired by alcohol or other drugs,” says Alex Otte, MADD’s (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) national president. “We know that access to rideshare gives people options to make the right choice, which helps reduce drunk and drug-impaired driving, save lives, and prevent injuries.” 

The results of the NDAA study validate previous research from the organization that found that the availability of Lyft was associated with a reduction in DUI incidents in Atlanta and Los Angeles (52% and 40% fewer DUI charges, respectively), Chicago and San Diego (40% and 25% fewer DUI arrests, respectively), and San Francisco (31% fewer DUI bookings).

The NDAA concludes that rideshare should be viewed as an effective tool for mitigating impaired driving, adding that “rideshare services, more now than ever, offer an affordable, convenient, and accessible alternative.” 

The NDAA study is far from the only effort to understand whether rideshare can decrease impaired driving rates. There is a growing body of evidence, including 2021 studies from Columbia University and the University of Texas published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, that rideshare is associated with fewer DUI incidents. As this body of evidence grows, it’s becoming clear that rideshare is making a real difference in impaired driving rates across the United States, particularly among young people — and that thousands of lives could be saved.