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Opinion: Sharing a ride to health and safety

Have you used a ride share service? If you're a senior, odds are the answer is no.
ShareRide
Ride share companies haven't yet benefitted seniors, but this can change, say columnists. Photo submitted.

We all hope for a breakthrough in the cure for cancer. Thankfully, scientists are making progress in the fight against this and many other devastating diseases. But on occasion, an innovation well outside of the healthcare sector can make a big difference in matters of life and death. Is there one such innovation where older people are missing out?

New research shows the introduction of ride sharing services has dramatically reduced trauma stemming from car accidents. This isn’t the first such study, but it adds to a mounting collection of studies with finding that allow for better planning and decision-making.

Ride sharing companies, like Uber, Lyft and another 88 or so global competitors, have been in operation for about a decade, and the business model that depends on web applications and mobile app technology has proliferated to nearly every large city around the world.

Since the first studies were conducted to measure the impact of ride share services on human health, the results have been mixed. The great hope, of course, has been for a reduction in the incidence of drunk driving. Initial studies were inconclusive.

But with the passage of time and the growth of available data, studies have delved into more detailed analysis, looking not only at traffic fatalities, but also taking into account rates of tourism, access to public transportation, and timing of ride shares and alcohol related accidents.

Consumer behaviour offers another lens. Uber, the largest global company, reports that nearly 80 percent of riders claim to have avoided drinking and driving at least once thanks to the service.

What does the latest research show? A newly released study, conducted by researchers at the University of Texas and published in JAMA Surgery, used hospital trauma data, ride share volume and impaired driving convictions to compare the 7-year period prior to Uber introduction with a comparable set of years post Uber introduction. It involved data on more than 24 million Uber rides. They found a 23.8 percent decrease in motor vehicle crash traumas. What’s most interesting is this decrease was measured during peak trauma periods (Friday and Saturday nights).

It makes sense, as this is when the younger demographic of ride share users are heading out to socialize. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine the best calculations for city managers rapidly granting permits to transform outdoor spaces into dining patios and sidewalk bars. Promoting ride share programs will help all those with pent up enthusiasm for social drinking get home safe and sound.

But who is not benefiting from the perks of ride share programs? Research shows older adults are uninformed about how ride sharing works. The process of hailing a ride with their smart phones presents a technological gulf that is not being addressed. In addition, research has found they are particularly concerned about their safety with regard to unknown ride share drivers.

As a result, seniors tend to be driving their own cars or not going out – neither of which may be in their best interest.

Will the arrival of fully autonomous vehicles make the difference? Perhaps not for skittish seniors. But driverless cars will solve one of the concerns about ride share programs – distracted ride share drivers looking at their phones for information.

As we move ever more boldly into the post-pandemic new era, wouldn’t it be nice if we could harness more innovations like ride sharing to make the world a healthier place?

Where is the next big breakthrough?

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