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January 4 2018

California Has Brewed Up a Common-Sense Solution to Drunk Driving

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Driving home when a person is inebriated can lead to devastating impacts. Now, the state of California is trying to make it easier for patrons to get a free or cheap ride home after an evening of drinking. Their common-sense approach promises to reduce drunk-driving disasters and increase public safety.

Just three days into the new year, a suspected drunk driver in San Diego sped into another car and caused the deaths of two people. Hopefully, state lawmakers have a new tool to combat drunk driving.

On January 1, California law was amended to allow beer and alcohol manufacturers and licensed sellers to offer customers free or discounted rides home through taxis, ride-hailing companies, and other transportation options. To ensure that companies don’t use this as a marketing tool to get patrons to buy more drinks, the bill prohibits them from conditioning the perk on the purchase of an alcoholic beverage.

The amendment passed the legislature unanimously demonstrating that this is a bipartisan issue. It was also supported by beer and alcohol companies as well as ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft.

Not everyone was on board though. Alcohol Justice, an activist group which bills itself as the watchdog for the industry, suggests that this effort will encourage people to overindulge because they may go drinking elsewhere instead of home. We’ll have to observe the data on drunk driving incidences to determine if their concerns have merit. However, the fact that other states already have similar laws in place, tells us something.

California now joins 44 other states and Washington, D.C., in permitting alcohol providers to offer free or discounted rides. The trend has picked up speed as ride-hailing has grown in popularity.

This is an example of how common-sense legislation can free the marketplace to use technology to solve problems in society. There’s a growing body of evidence about the impact of ride-hailing on drunk driving. Analysis of county data from 2007 through 2015, found that when Uber began operating in an area, the rate of DUIs and fatal accidents decreased. The entrance of Uber led to a 6-percent decline in the fatal accident rate, an 18-percent decline in fatal night-time crashes, and for each additional year of operation is associated with a 16.6-percent decline in vehicular fatalities.

We’ve also seen what happens to public safety when lawmakers try to straddle technology and innovation with added regulation. When Uber and Lyft left Austin in the wake of greater regulations, arrests for driving while intoxicated spiked by 7.5 percent.

It’s a positive step that California, the home of Silicon Valley, has caught up to other less tech-forward states. We need more reasonable approaches to dealing with public safety and maybe we can save more lives through greater freedom.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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