Will Austin’s New Rideshare Ordinance Affect Drunk Driving?

On February 1, Austin’s new rideshare ordinance goes into effect. The statute was approved this past December in a 9-2 vote and will require rideshare service drivers, such as Uber and Lyft, to undergo fingerprint background checks before they can chauffer passengers. Companies will have 12 months from the effective start date to bring their company policies into compliance with the local ordinance.

The popular rideshare companies are less than thrilled with the new requirement, and both Lyft and Uber have publicly stated that the ordinance will drive their services out of the city. The companies believe the rules are unfair to drivers who may have been fingerprinted but never faced charges or a conviction after an arrest.

Success Case—Houston

However, Houston has already successfully implemented a fingerprint requirement and hasn’t seen a reduction in the number of drivers willing to work in the city. In its history with the background check requirement, the city has rejected several drivers applying for Transportation Network Company (TNC) licenses. The individuals passed commercial background checks, but the finger-print check highlighted several who had criminal histories.

Ridesharing Saves Lives

Drunk driving rates in the city have declined in the years since rideshare services have become popular. While statisticians can’t confirm if the drop in drunk driving is directly related to rideshare services, there does seem to be a correlation. If the most-used companies pull out of Austin after the statute goes into effect and drunk driving rates go back up, the city may have to reconsider its new ordinance.

Law enforcement is concerned that the rates could increase once again if the rideshare services pull out of the city. Texas struggles the most with drunk driving, according to MADD. In 2013, the state led the country in drunk driving related deaths. In that year, 1,337 people died in accidents involving drunk driving.

But It Also Presents a Real Risk

Houston’s experience with criminal backgrounds indicates a legitimate risk individuals take when they step into a rideshare vehicle. An article from KEYE TV in December shows the number of sexual assault cases with TNC and cab driver perpetrators is on the rise. If Lyft and Uber choose to stay, Austin residents can rest a little easier knowing the people behind the wheels of these vehicles have been screened.

Practicing Safe Drinking Habits

Regardless of the change in local ordinances, drunk driving remains a major concern for the state, and there will always be one or two bad drivers who reflect poorly on the rest. Use these tips to stay safe while you’re out on the town:

  • Use the buddy system. Share a ride on the way home from parties or bars, and try to ride with people going to the same area.
  • Always plan your designated driver before you start drinking. Never assume someone will be your DD. Always verify the logistics before you head out so everyone is on the same page.
  • Leave your car keys at home if you plan to drink. Remove the temptation of driving completely if you can’t trust yourself to make good decisions.
  • Avoid drinking in new situations. You can always politely leave if you haven’t been drinking. Drinking can help you relax, but it can also make you feel trapped and more willing to drive under the influence.

Over the next year, keep an eye on how Uber and Lyft respond to the new ordinances. Law enforcement will be watching the statistics carefully to see if there’s any change in drunk driving arrests. If you’re injured in a drunk driving accident or by a criminal driver, contact Joe Lopez Law for a free consultation.