By Jenny Jiao, ’16 and Maeve O’Brien, ’16
Rise of Uber services impact students’ drinking habits
Five girls tiptoe out of a quiet house, wincing at the floor creaks, checking the dim hallways, and slowly twisting doorknobs. Among the girls is Jane*, a junior, whose parents think she’s still fast asleep with her friends. The clock reads 11:45 p.m. as they scurry to the side of the road, and a car soon approaches. The vehicle slows to a stop in front of the girls, and they climb in.
A few minutes later, the bright lights of High Street come into view and the chatter of Ohio State students drifts into the cracked window as the car turns onto a side street.
Jane and her friends thank the driver as they clamber out of the car. Quickly flashing their fake IDs, they are let into a bar.
Hours later, Jane emerges from a bar after drinking and dancing with her friends, fellow UA students, as well as college undergraduate students. She finds her friends as a car pulls around, and 15 minutes later they’re right where they started.
The only difference: They are drunk and the clock reads 3:12 a.m.
The car that allowed Jane and her friends to sneak out of the house and go to the bar isn’t a friend’s, or a taxi.
It’s an Uber.
Uber Corporation is a business that provides transportation to users who connect through their app. The app links customers to Uber-verified drivers who use their own vehicles to drive to the desired location. Uber allows its users to request a ride, estimate fares and pay through credit card all on its mobile app.
Due to its efficiency and low costs, Uber has become popular in predominantly urban areas, attracting customers that would otherwise use taxis.
The rise of Uber has also provided another form of transportation for people who can not otherwsie safely drive, therefore impacting underage drinking.
The rise of Uber Corporation has affected the situations in which students would consume alcohol and their access to establishments that sell alcohol, such as bars.
Jane said that Uber allowed her and her friends to go to bars on the Ohio State University campus when they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
“My parents didn’t know [I was going to a bar]. There was no way I would be allowed,” Jane said. “So having Uber was very convenient.”
In addition, Jane said Uber has impacted the convinience in which she consumes alcohol.
“It’s definitely easier to drink with Uber available,” she said. “But I don’t know if that will necessarily make [my friends and I] drink more frequently.”
However, other students believe Uber does not impact the frequency or quantity in which they would drink alcohol.
UA Officer Jon Rice is unsure as to whether students will drink more knowing they can depend on a safe ride.
However, Rice states that drinking can cause irrational thinking and impulse decision making. This intoxication then leads to the use of Uber.
“I think that everyone starts out wanting to be conservative and not get so intoxicated that they can no longer make rational decisions,” Rice said. “In reality, a lot of people reach that point and decide to drink more because their defenses have been lowered.”
Senior Alyssa Cooper is well acquainted with Uber, having used the service when she did not otherwise have a ride.
Cooper said if she were in a situation with alcohol, Uber would not be the best option.
“Uber doesn’t encourage me to drink at all,” she said. “I think for other people [Uber] encourages them to drink more, but [if I were in such a situation], I personally would rather someone I know drive me home than a stranger. It feels like that would be the safer option.”
Senior Madeline Fleming has used Uber as a means for transportation when she’s on vacation, and when she and her friends do not want to drive to an event, such as a concert.
Fleming agrees that Uber may not impact whether students will drink.
“I think regardless of Uber, if teenagers want to drink, they will,” Fleming said.
Braking the Rules
In addition to allowing students to consume alcohol more easily, Uber also provides an alternative to drinking and driving.
Now, with the ease of an app, people have a ride home, potentially lowering drunk driving rates.
According to a study conducted by Temple University, drunk driving rates fell in Californian cities by around 5.6 percent after Uber became popular, reported The Daily Beast.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a non-profit organization aimed at lowering rates of drunk driving, has also analyzed Uber’s impact. MADD partnered with Uber to conducted a survey of the impact of Uber on drunk driving in the largest cities where Uber is operating.
According to the study, ridesharing services like Uber are making people less inclined to drink and drive home.
“Nearly 4 in 5 (78 percent) respondents said friends are less likely to drive home after drinking since ridesharing services like Uber started operating in their city,” MADD reported based upon their survey findings on their website.
In addition, the report showed that 93 percent of people would suggest Uber as a safe way to get home to a friend who had been consuming alcohol.
David Plouffe, Senior Vice President for Policy and Strategy at Uber joined MADD spokespeople in a press release about the study.
“This study shows us that when empowered with more transportation options, people are making safer, better choices that are helping save lives,” Plouffe said.
This positive effect of Uber has helped it garner public support. Fleming encourages the idea behind it.
“I think it is a great way to reduce drunk driving, and it is such a smart idea,” Fleming said. “Because people are always there to pick you up because Uber drivers can be anyone.”
Jane agrees that she has frequently utilized Uber in instances where her and her friends were drinking.
“We normally use Uber when it would be a smarter decision because we’re impaired.” Jane said. “It just allows us to be less worried about the consequences of drinking.”
Prior to Uber, some students would select a designated driver to transport them in situations where alcohol was involved, including Jane and her friends.
“A lot of times we would just always have a designated driver,” Jane said, “and we still do that a lot, but Uber is sometimes just more convenient if everyone wants to drink.”
However, there is tension as to whether Uber may be a wholly positive thing, as it is essentially making it easier for teenagers to consume alcohol.
Drinking is now not an inconvenience for students, as Uber relieves the responsibility of driving that would sometimes keep someone from drinking alcohol.
Cooper recognizes both the positive and negative effects of the availibility of Uber on students’ behaviors.
“I know for most people who go to campus or bars [Uber] is the alternative to drinking and driving. Obviously there’s good and bad things about that,” Cooper said. “For one, drinking and driving is very dangerous and this decreases the risk of accidents but [people] who use Uber as that alternative [at UAHS] are underage, which is another main issue in our school.”