For the past couple of years, Uber has touted data that suggests its ridesharing service reduces DUIs and drunk driving crashes in areas where Uber usage is high. In particular Uber has tapped into this claim by partnering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and marketing free rides on days known for heavy drinking, like St. Patrick’s Day.
But the validity of those claims has been questioned by some, and now the company is facing criticism and fines over claims that it didn’t do enough to prevent or stop Uber drivers who drove while intoxicated.
Records show that between August 2014 and August 2015, Uber received more than 2,000 complaints from California riders who suspected their driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. California regulations requires cab and other ride-hailing companies to have a zero-tolerance policy toward drunk and impaired driving.
However, a review of the complaints found that Uber banned only about a quarter of the accused drivers. The company also only took immediate action—within an hour—in a handful of cases. And in more than a hundred cases, the company failed to suspend service providers or investigate complaints of drunk driving. California’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has recommended a $1.13 million fine in response to the findings.
Uber says that since the time of the cited complaints it has taken steps to improve the speed and way it handles suspected drunk drivers. And it is important to note that the reported cases make up a very small number of the hundreds of thousands of Uber rides in the same time period.
Ridesharing apps like Uber have certainly made it much easier for people who have had one too many to get a safe and sober ride home. But California’s findings could dampen Uber’s desire to be seen as a silver bullet for drunk driving.