DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Smartphones have changed the behavior of users since the first Apple iPhone debuted in the late 2000s. Few of those changes have had as big of an impact as rideshare apps.
Click your Lyft or Uber app, request a pickup and you have a ride home from the bar, the airport or back to the hotel.
Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck said the massive growth of rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft in the area gives no excuse for people to drive drunk.
“It’s so easy to just use your smartphone,“ Streck said. “Uber, Lyft and other companies have really opened it up. Most people have a phone, you can jump on an app and see how close a (rideshare) car is.
Rideshares began operating in Dayton in 2014 with Uber. In 2016, Lyft jumped into the Dayton market. Since that time, fatal OVI crashes in Ohio urban areas have dropped. In 2016, the number was 155, which made up 40 percent of all fatal crashes in the state. The number fell to 127 (34 percent) in 2017 and 136 (37 percent) in 2018.
From 2017 to 2018, OVI-related crashes in Montgomery County declined 18.5 percent from 313 in 2017 to 255 in 2018, according to the Ohio Traffic Safety Office.
Arrest numbers were also down. In 2018 there were 783 OVI-related arrests, down from 837 in 2017, a decrease of 7 percent.
Rideshare companies will not share data on drivers and trips. This has limited the data available for researchers to study rideshares , but some have had some success, and the results are surprising.
“It’s not a pleasant experience”
Streck said if people choose to drive drunk and not take advantage of ridesharing or other ways to avoid drunk driving, the consequences are costly.
A first-time OVI charge can lead to thousands of dollars in fines. That’s not accounting what you pay for a lawyer and court costs.
“Spending $40 to $50 then for a rideshare can save you thousands in a court case,” Streck said. “It can cost you everything – your job, the money you have to spend on attorneys and the money on court costs. “It’s way too easy to find a safe way home, then to take a chance.
“It’s not a pleasant experience. Your car will probably get towed, you could lose your job unless the judge reinstates your driving privileges. It can affect your childcare. You will have to hire an attorney, and it’s not just one court date and it’s done. If there’s a delay, if there’s hearings, every time an attorney files something it’s an additional cost.”
Streck said getting your license back and getting through the court process doesn’t end it. The OVI will be on your record. If you get another OVI, it’s something Montgomery County Sheriff’s deputies consider when they charge you.
“Let someone drive you to each place you’re going,” Steck said. “It’s less worry off your mind.”
“They have changed the face of business everywhere”
Steve Tieber is one of the owners of Dublin Pub, (a) stalwart of Dayton’s Oregon District. He’s been working in the Oregon District for 29 years and been in business there for 21. He said ridesharing has changed the range of customers since the services arrived.
“I would say we get 30 to 40 (rideshare) pickups on a Friday or Saturday night – easy,” Tieber said. “That’s just us and not including the rest of the Oregon District.
“Within a year or two it became normal where you could get a ride down to the Oregon District and get dropped off, or someone leaves a car and takes one home because it’s the right thing to do.”
Rideshare numbers aren’t available locally, but Dayton’s subset mirrors city’s like Portland and San Antonio which benefited substantially from the services.
“There are good cab services here but they could never handle the load,” Tieber said. “I live in Bellbrook and I can’t tell you how many times someone said, ‘We’d loved to come down more, but I don’t like to drink and drive.’ I haven’t heard that phrase in years.”
The customer group that’s used ridesharing the most are millennials and younger. Coincidentally, they have the lowest rate of drunk driving arrests.
A study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report said drinking and driving among high school students had declined 54 percent from 1991. Drunk driving had also decreased 10 percent among those 21 to 25 years, the prime age of rideshare customers.
Rideshare effects differ depending on the city
Dr. Christopher Morrison was one of several scholars who studied rideshares and crashes in the United States. Without driver data or other information from Uber or Lyft, their study (published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in June 2017), took a different approach.
The study focused on four cities that had interruptions in rideshare service – either through legislative blocks or lawsuits – and later regained service.
“We hypothesized that Uber’s resumption would be associated with fewer alcohol-involved crashes,” Morrison and others stated in the study. “Results partially supported this hypothesis.”
Whether rideshares affected drunk driving or other crashes was dependent on other factors. The four cities examined – Las Vegas, Reno, Nev., Portland, and San Antonio – were different cities with different transportation cultures and different results.
In Portland, Uber’s resumption of service led to a 61.8 percent decrease in the alcohol-related crash rate. Surprisingly, there was no change to the overall crash rate. In San Antonio serious injury-related crashes fell 12.8 percent. There were no major changes in crash rates or alcohol-related crash rates in Las Vegas or Reno.
“We see different effects from place to place. That means the benefits of ridesharing in reducing alcohol-related crashes might be present in some places but not in others.”Dr. Chris Morrison, Columbia University
The Las Vegas economy is fueled by tourism, which means plenty of taxicab services and other tourist-friendly transportation. This is much different from Portland, where taxis aren’t as available. Reno’s results were close to that of Las Vegas.
“We saw changes in San Antonio as well as Portland,” Morrison said. “Why it reduced when ridesharing returned is hard to say. It could be the road network, the location of bars, police enforcement activities or all three.”
Morrison said many cities have used ridesharing as an intervention to reduce drunk driving. Organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have partnered with rideshare companies to market using rideshares before drinking and driving.
“Other groups have been vocal in support of this intervention as well,” Morrison said
The surprise from the study was the no drop in overall crashes. Morrison said his group is already gathering funding to investigate why alcohol-related crashes fell, but other crashes haven’t.
“Even if ridesharing is taking down the number of alcohol crashes, something is offsetting that,” Morrison said.
Fatal OVI crashes
While rideshares got their start in Ohio in 2014, the number of OVI arrests by the Ohio State Highway Patrol is higher now than it was in 2013.
There were 24,128 OVI arrests in 2013, with 2,103 in the District 5 area. District 5 includes Montgomery, Preble, Greene, Darke, Clark, Logan, Shelby, Auglaize, Mercer and Union counties. The state number peaked in 2017 with 27,347 arrests before falling last year to 26,614. District 5 numbers peaked in 2018 at 2,722.
But these numbers could be deceiving. The Ohio State Highway Patrol didn’t start tracking drug-related OVI arrests until 2017. This would include any driver under the influence of marijuana or other drugs. When the department began counting these separately, the numbers were shocking. In 2017, 23 percent of all OVI arrests were drug-related. That number has stayed steady – in 2018 it was 22 percent and through the end of October, it was 23 percent in 2019. One in four OVI arrests is related to drugs.
Looking at the data one could conclude if ridesharing is causing a drop in drunk driving arrests, driving while impaired by drugs could be a reason the numbers haven’t fallen at the state level.
Another possible culprit is distracted driving. A report filed by the Ohio Distracted Driving Task Force concluded 80,000 crashes occurred between 2013 and 2018 because of distracted driving. Over 3,000 people suffered serious injuries while 268 were killed.
Rideshare drivers are susceptible to distracted driving because of the need to stay in contact with their phone for potential customers and to monitor traffic and weather conditions.
“There may be unintended consequences to ridesharing,” Morrison said. “An increase in distracted driving or increases in overall motor vehicle use could raise the number of injury crashes. That would solve one problem and create another.”