Robin Fuson
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Has Uber Decreased DUI in Tampa?

Car Accidents

Are popular ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft reducing driving under the influence and saving lives? Uber launched in 2009, and its success has been extraordinary. In 2016, Uber now operates in more than sixty countries, and the company’s estimated value is well over $60 billion. But are Uber, Lyft, and the other ridesharing companies actually reducing drunk driving? What do the statistics say, and are the statistics trustworthy?

In Seattle, before Uber arrived there in 2013, more than seven drivers a day – about 2,700 a year – were being arrested for driving under the influence. In 2014, Uber sponsored research to determine what impact the service was having on DUI numbers in Seattle. The company published its figures and announced that in Uber’s first year of operation, driving under the influence had declined in Seattle by approximately ten percent. Figures from California also show that Uber and Lyft are reducing incidences of driving under the influence in that state. In states like Georgia, there have been different statistics and an increase in the need for the services of a criminal defense lawyer in Georgia.

In Austin, Texas, the number of taxis available actually declines at peak hours. It’s a taxi industry practice that gives an edge to a small group of cabbies – usually those with seniority in their cab companies – but it means more stranded consumers who are more likely to drive after drinking if taxicabs or other rides-for-hire are unavailable. Cab companies in many big cities have a similar policy.

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Lyft and Uber ceased their Austin operations in May, refusing to accept a new Austin city ordinance that requires their drivers to be fingerprinted. In Tampa in June, Florida House of Representatives majority leader Dana Young tweeted, “DUI arrests dropped significantly in Tampa once Uber began operating here. The Austin situation is disturbing.” But have DUI arrests really dropped “significantly” in Tampa since Uber launched here?

IS UBER’S OWN RESEARCH RELIABLE AND COMPREHENSIVE?

Uber’s research and statistics make the company look good, and others think so too. Colleen-Sheehey Church, the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), proclaimed that “Uber’s proven commitment to keeping the roads safe is critical to helping us create a future of no more victims.” But is Uber’s research ignoring some of the other reasons why driving under the influence might be declining in the markets where Uber operates?

Precise DUI figures in Tampa are difficult to determine for several reasons. Although the Tampa Police Department (TPD) makes most of the DUI arrests in the city, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office also makes DUI arrests in Tampa, arrests which are not reflected in the TPD’s statistics. And it’s hard to detect any particular general trend in the Tampa DUI arrest numbers, which tend to fluctuate. For example, the total number of DUI arrests in Tampa decreased by 135 in 2013 over 2012, but the number increased by 64 in 2014 over 2013.

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DUI arrests slightly declined in Tampa after Uber came here, with arrests-per-month remaining between 100 and 136 for most of 2015, compared to 185 DUI arrests in June of 2014 as Uber was just starting in Tampa. But by the beginning of 2016, DUI arrests in Tampa were on the rise again. Nevertheless, Florida State University professor Bill Bales, who teaches criminology and criminal justice, thinks the figures prove that Uber’s impact is positive.

HAS UBER HAD A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT IN TAMPA?

There were 414 fewer driving under the influence arrests in Tampa in 2015, when Uber was fully operational in in the city, then in 2014, when Uber was only establishing and getting started in Tampa. “The fact that DUI arrests declined by 22.2 percent from 2014 to 2015, which is arguably the first full year of operation, suggests Uber has had a significant impact on DUI arrests,” Bales told Politifact Florida. He added, “The reality is we can’t control for everything. We rarely make the claim that X caused Y at this level. We’re not that precise.”

A comprehensive three-year study of Uber’s impact in 150 cities was completed in May. Sean Mulholland, the study’s co-author and a professor of economics at Stonehill College, said the large sample size allowed researchers to reach some definitive conclusions regarding Uber and DUI statistics. “When looking at only one city or county, there might be other factors unique to the city that are driving the decline,” he told Politifact Florida. “But when we look at many cities, we are able to hold constant any unique factors that do not change over the years of the study.” The report simply states, “We find that Uber’s entry lowers the rate of DUIs and fatal accidents.”

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Specifically, has Uber reduced driving under the influence in Tampa? Uber arrived in Tampa in 2014, and DUI numbers declined throughout 2015. Still, many factors affect the number of DUI incidents, so attributing the declining numbers solely to Uber is short-sighted. TPD Public Information Officer Stephen Hegarty suggests that a number of factors could explain the declining DUI numbers, including public information about DUI checkpoints and crackdowns during holiday periods.

WHAT IS THE COST OF A DUI CONVICTION?

In the state of Florida, a driving under the influence charge can be filed against any driver who measures a 0.08 percent or higher blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Anyone charged with driving under the influence in Central Florida will need to consult an experienced Tampa DUI attorney. Even with no property damage or injuries, the potential penalties for a “simple” DUI conviction in this state are:

  • First offense: a 1-year license suspension, up to 9 months in jail, and up to $2,000 in fines
  • Second offense: a 5-year license suspension, up to a year in jail, and up to $4,000 in fines
  • Third offense: a 10-year license suspension, up to a year in jail, and up to $5,000 in fines

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Honestly, with a wide variety of ride-for-hire options now available, there’s genuinely no reason for anyone to face a DUI charge in the Tampa Bay area. If you call a rideshare service in Tampa or St. Petersburg, you won’t have to call a Tampa DUI attorney before the night is over. Uber, Lyft, and a number of similar companies are expanding in Tampa Bay and throughout Florida. That’s good news for consumers, and whether Uber’s impact on DUI is great or minimal, any reduction in DUI-related accidents and fatalities is always welcome.

Robin Fuson
By Robin Fuson